European Commission goes ‘bust’ in Greek casino entry charge State Aid case

Nine years after the first complaint was submitted to the European Commission, one in-depth investigation that resulted in a recovery order and two European Court of Justice rulings later, the European Commission has conceded that state levied entry charges in Greek casinos between 1995 and 2012 did not, after all, constitute illegal State Aid.

In the mid-1990s the Hellenic Republic introduced the requirement for casinos in Greece to charge admission fees to customers entering the premises with 80% of the fee being paid to the Greek government, and 20% being retained by the business to cover administration and associated costs.

Until 2012, the admission fee was set by the state at EUR 15 for private casinos and EUR 6 for state-owned casinos. In November 2012, Greece abolished the difference between admission fees to public and private casinos and set a standard fee of EUR 6 for all casinos.

In 2009 a private casino operator, Club Hotel Loutraki SA, lodged a State Aid complaint with the European Commission.  Following an in-depth investigation, DG-Competition concluded in Commission Decision of 24 May 2011 that the combination of the 80% levy and the fiscal differential between the levies applied to private casinos viz-à-viz state owned establishments meant that private casinos had a greater tax burden to bear, thereby placing them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.  Furthermore, as the fiscal differential was equivalent to a reduction in the taxation burden, it was also selective in nature and distorted competition.

The Commission’s Decision was, however, overturned by the General Court on 11 September 2014 finding that the Commission had failed to adequately demonstrate the existence of an advantage enjoyed by state owned casinos in its 2011 decision.  In particular, because the amounts due to be paid to the Greek state by private and public casinos corresponded to the same percentage (80%) of the different regulated admission fees charged to customers by the two categories of casinos, the Court held that there was no selective advantage granted to public casinos by this measure.

The European Court of Justice confirmed the General Court’s judgment on 22 October 2015.

The Commission’s new Decision of 9 August 2018 is in line with the findings in both judgments. A non-confidential version of the decision has not yet been published.  It will be displayed as soon as it has been cleansed of any confidential information in the State Aid Register under the case number SA.28973.

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