In a case that reaches back many years, the European Commission has finally referred Greece to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) last week for failing to comply with the Commission’s order to recover incompatible state aid from three domestic casinos.
Greece is certainly no stranger to the ECJ when it comes to the country’s gambling regulations: gambling news reports in January discussed the court’s ruling concerning the Greek practice of preserving a monopoly on sports betting.
The news from last week, however, shows that in addition to Greek gambling laws being potentially incompatible with European Union rules, the country has also been flagrantly flouting the organization’s rules on subsidies and competition.
In a nutshell, the case involves the public casinos of Mont Parnes and Corfu and the private casino of Thessaloniki. The EC received a complaint in 2009 regarding the Greek government’s decision to allow these three businesses to charge EUR 4.80 for admission, while the country’s 14 other brick-and-mortar casinos had to make their patrons pay EUR 12.
The amounts may not seem like much, but considering the popularity of these Greek casinos and the volume of tourist traffic, the difference adds up to many millions of euros ultimately. Millions, which the EC says amount to distorting the competition and must be reclaimed.
“Member States have numerous possibilities to support business in line with EU state aid rules. However, when subsidies procure distortive advantages to selected companies without furthering any common interest goal they must be recovered swiftly,” stressed Joaquin Almunia, EC Vice President for competition policy.
“This is necessary to restore a level playing field and to preserve the effectiveness of the rules themselves,” explained the politician.
The EC decision to order the recovery of the subsidies was passed in May 2011, with a four month deadline for Greece to initiate the procedures. In a perfect example of Greek swiftness, nothing happened until November 2012, when the government finally put an end to the practice.
At the same time, they have not made any serious efforts to comply with the part about the recovery so the EC has finally lost patience with Greece dragging its proverbial feet.
Should the court decide against Greece, the country will have to reclaim the money from those casinos, or else risk the suspension of funds coming to it from the EU.