Greece shuts down Stanleybet's outlets

ATHENS, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Greece has shut down UK-based fixed-odds betting firm Stanleybet’s two shops in the country for violating a law that protects Greek OPAP’s betting monopoly, Stanleybet said on Monday.

Last month Stanleybet opened a store in Athens and one in the northern city of Thessaloniki, even though OPAP OPAr.AT, Europe's biggest betting firm, holds the exclusive rigths on sports betting and lotteries in Greece until 2020.

“After a lawsuit filed by OPAP, Greek police arrested the person in charge of Stanleybet’s store in Thessaloniki and seized terminals, cash and coupons,” Stanleybet said in a statement.

“We are determined to defend a regulated and fair sports betting market in Greece,” it added.

Stanleybet requested a licence to operate in Greece in 2005, but the firm has not received any response until now and took the case to the country’s highest court, the Council of State. The case is still pending.

An Athens-based analyst said Stanleybet’s move to open up stores in Greece was aimed at speeding up the legal case.

“By opening the stores, Stanleybet wanted to speed up a ruling by the Council of State, which could open the way for the case to go to the European Commission or the European Court of Justice,” National/P&K Securities analyst George Vitorakis said.

OPAP has about 5,500 outlets in Greece and Cyprus, producing sales of 5 billion euros last year, including 2.2 billion on fixed-odds sports bets.

Stanleybet currently offers sports bets, mainly on soccer events, in Cyprus, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Croatia, Romania and Poland through more than 1,500 outlets. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, editing by Will Waterman)