Greece: Government sells its stake in OPAP

On 12 August the Greek government put pen to paper to complete the sale of its 33% controlling stake in the gambling monopoly OPAP for €652 million to Emma Delta, an equity fund led by Czech billionaire Jiri Smejc.

For the Greek government this deal must come as a huge relief, as for months it seemed like there was little prospect of achieving its privatisation target of €1.6 billion. (In June 2013, Greece failed to attract a single bid for the privatisation of its natural gas company, Depa.) Subject to approval from Greece’s competition commission, the government will pocket €622 million by October, with the remaining €30 million to be paid in instalments over 10 years.

The sale comes at a time when OPAP is vulnerable, with a draft law seeking to maintain its monopoly position currently being scrutinised by the European Commission and challenges pending from disgruntled operators.

The European Commission held in January that the national legislation which continues to preserve exclusive rights for OPAP was incompatible with EU law (in the joined Greek cases C-186/11 and C-209/11 to which Sportingbet, William Hill and Stanleybet were all party). Given the new draft submitted in March has the same effect (revoking the rights of private operators to offer any form of betting and also restricting online gaming offered by private operators to games where the results are not determined by random number generator (i.e. poker tournaments) until 2020), it is difficult to envisage how the European Commission could arrive at a different conclusion when the standstill period expires on 23 September.

Further, the Remote Gambling Association (the largest trade association for online gambling operators and suppliers) has filed an injunction on the Greek government’s decision to approve the privatization of OPAP without waiting for the European Commission ruling.

With a number of factors still in play, the fate of the Greek online gambling market remains to be seen.