British betting group seeks to end Greek ban - Tuesday 3rd of February 2009

British sports betting group Stanleybet said Wednesday it had taken legal action to reopen two Greek outlets that were closed last year after pressure from state gambling operator OPAP.

"We are determined to defend the creation of a regulated, fair and competitive sports betting market in Greece," Stanleybet International communications director Constantinos Maragakis said in a statement.

Stanleybets outlets in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki were shut down in November barely a week after opening on October 29, the company said.

Police confiscated equipment, coupons and cash and arrested store operators and three customers who were all released the following day, it said.

At the time, police said Stanleybet "conducted illegal betting ... without a permit from the appropriate authorities ... aiming to make monetary gain at the expense of the Greek state."

OPAP has had control over betting in Greece since 1996 and is one of the countrys few profitable public companies.

But Stanleybet, which has more than 1,400 outlets in Belgium, Croatia, Romania and Poland, said it has a "legal right" to provide operate in Greece under EU law and prior European Court of Justice rulings.

OPAP threatened to take legal action against the British betting group after it opened two outlets in Athens and Salonika last month.

"The company will defend the rights (arising) from its contract with the Greek state in every legal manner," it said.

Greeks spend several billion euros a year on football gambling and lotteries, in casinos and at the racetrack, according to press reports.

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