September 30, 2014 / 4:55 PM / 5 years ago

Greek court says OPAP's betting monopoly is legal

ATHENS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - A Greek court ruled on Tuesday that OPAP’s betting monopoly in the country is legal, court officials said, rejecting a long-standing challenge by rival firms and securing the company’s market dominance in Greece.

OPAP, one of Europe’s biggest betting firms, has the exclusive right to offer lotteries in debt-laden Greece until 2030 and sports betting until 2020. But British sports betting firms William Hill, Sportingbet and Stanleybet, have challenged its monopoly since 2004, saying that it violated EU rules on freedom of services.

Greece’s court, the Council of State, ruled on Tuesday that reforms in the gambling sector that Athens has implemented since 2011 protect OPAP’s monopoly in line with European law.

Greek judges said that OPAP’s monopoly aims at fighting illegal betting and criminal activities in the gaming market.

EU rules prohibit national laws from granting exclusive gambling rights to a single company, unless the authorities are genuinely reducing access to gambling and controlling expansion of the sector to combat criminality.

In a response to the Greek court which sought advice, Europe’s highest court ruled last year that the monopoly was illegal. But it said Greek authorities may not need to open up the sector if they implemented reforms to protect consumers.

OPAP, with a market value of 3.4 billion euros, has about 5,000 outlets in Greece and Cyprus. It has recently launched scratchcard gambling and is about to launch a new video lotto business.

The Greek state sold a 33 percent stake in the group last year, marking the country’s first major privatisation under a 240 billion-euro bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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