Greece referred to ECJ over failure to recover state aid to casinos

19th July 2013 6:55 am GMT

The European Commission (EC) has referred Greece to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after it failed to comply with two EC rulings ordering the country to recover what it claims amounted to state aid from three land-based casinos.

The dispute stems back to 2009 when the EC received a complaint regarding the taxation of admissions to Greek casinos. It found that while the tax on admission prices was uniform, at 80 per cent, public casinos were required to charge €6.00 for admission, compared to €15.00 for private casinos.
This resulted in public casinos paying €4.80 in tax per admission, with private operators paying €12.00, almost three times as much. Three public casinos were named in the case, located in Mont Parnès, Corfu, and Rhodes, alongside a private casino in Thessaloniki, which was described “as assimilated to a public casino” by the EC. The Rhodes venue, which had not benefitted from the lower rate since 1999, was exempt from the case.

The Commission claimed in its original ruling in May 2011 that amounted to the government handing a “selective advantage to certain casinos” and caused the state to “forgo revenues which it would otherwise have collected.”

It ordered the Greek government to “recover the aid granted through this advantage since 1999 and to end the incompatible scheme,” giving it four months to do so.

However, the government rejected the ruling in November 2012, suspending “approximately 85 – 90 per cent” of the sum owed by Mont Parnès and Thessaloniki, while the Corfu venue has paid none of the money owed.

"Member States have numerous possibilities to support business in line with EU state aid rules,” the EC’s vice president in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia explained. “However, when subsidies procure distortive advantages to selected companies without furthering any common interest goal they must be recovered swiftly. This is necessary to restore a level playing field and to preserve the effectiveness of the rules themselves.”

Greece, which is also being referred to the ECJ over preferential electricity tariffs allowed for energy supplier Aluminium of Greece, was noted to have appealed the ruling against the casinos. The EC added that “no interim measures have been requested (nor granted) and the appeals have no suspensive effect.”

The ECJ could now look to recover the money by imposing penalty payments on the Greek state.

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