The European Commission has concluded that a system of levies on State-set admission fees at Greek casinos does not constitute EU State aid. The Commission had initially taken issue with the measures and decided, after an in-depth State aid investigation concluded in May 2011, that they constituted unlawful State aid which the Commission ordered Greece to recover. In September 2014, the General Court overturned this decision and the European Court of Justice confirmed the General Court’s judgment in October 2015. On 9 August 2018, the Commission adopted a new decision which concludes, in line with these judgments, that the differentiated tax levied on admission fees to public and private casinos did not confer a selective advantage to public casinos. This is because the same percentage of admission fees (80%) was required to be paid to the Greek State, even though the level at which admission fees were set differed as between private and public casinos. As a result, the measures did not constitute State aid.
Since 1995, all casinos in Greece have been required to charge regulated admission fees to customers and to pay 80% of those fees to the Greek State. They are entitled to withhold 20% as revenue for collecting and paying those fees to the State. 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.
Following a complaint by a private casino operator in 2009, the Commission opened a State aid investigation. It concluded that the fiscal discrimination, which resulted from the combination of the 80% levy and the setting of two unequal regulated admission prices, placed private casinos at a competitive disadvantage. The Commission considered that the joint effect of these measures was that public casinos had to pay less to the State and were relieved of a burden which they would otherwise have to bear. The resulting advantage was similar to a reduction in tax base, and as it was only available to public casinos, it was also selective and liable to distort competition.
The General Court disagreed with the Commission’s analysis and found that the Commission had not demonstrated the existence of an advantage. The Commission had failed to take into account the fact that the lower amounts which public casinos had to pay to the State reflected the lower amounts of admission fees which they were able to charge and actually collected. The same ratio of 80% of admission fees collected applied to both public and private casinos and therefore there was no reduction in tax base. The Commission tried to argue before the Court that the measures also provided a cash flow advantage to public casinos and allowed them to grant free admission tickets. The General Court rejected these arguments on the basis that the Commission’s decision relied solely on the alleged accounting advantage resulting from the fact that public casinos paid less to the Greek State.
The European Court of Justice confirmed the General Court’s judgment in October 2015.
The Commission’s new decision is in line with the findings in both judgments. A non-confidential version of the decision has not yet been published.