While it probably wasn't the European Union's intent to serve as defenders of online gambling, the international organization's stated free- and open-trade purposes have turned out to have exactly that effect. EU member nations across the continent are finding to their dismay that free trade really means free trade, and the fact that the impacted party is often the government itself doesn't change the basic issue. Not long after a landmark decision was handed down against Italy by the European Court in a similar case, Greece has now been placed squarely in the EU's crosshairs.
This time, a British-licensed online gambling firm, William Hill, forced the matter. William Hill applied for a license last week in Greece to open betting shops in that country, which would place it in direct competition with OPAP, the gambling concern granted monopoly status by the Greek government. William Hill made its application knowing full well that Greece was likely to deny it; William Hill's chief executive, David Harding, was quoted in several reports as saying he believed that Greece was in violation of European law, and that if the application was rejected, William Hill planned on pursuing the matter through the European Court.
Not only did initial Greek media reports indicate that William Hill's application was likely to be rejected, the Greek government upped the stakes by arresting nine people in western Greece for unauthorized gambling. Three of the nine operated Internet cafes while the other six were customers, and all nine were cited for using an unnamed British bookmaking service (perhaps but not necessarily William Hill) instead of OPAP for their gambling service. This follows the arrest of an Athens man last month on similar charges. OPAP's president, Sotiris Kostakos, was reported as saying, "The only company with the right to operate betting in Greece is OPAP."
Kostakos also suggested that the EU refer such complaints to the courts of the member countries, which is exactly what these countries seeking to protect their monopolistic revenue streams want to see happen. However, the EU has shown an interest in online gambling and ruled it to be a class of trade that should be available on an equal basis throughout all member countries. The European Union's impact on international trade agreements remains the brightest hope for all forms of online gambling, including poker.