EC gearing up for court actions


RIP Brian
Feb 22, 2001

Push to open the international betting market throughout 27 EU nations

Denmark, Finland, Hungary and Sweden could be priority targets for the European Commission as it moves to open up the cross-border exchange of trade and services in terms of the EU charter with more confidence following the recent European Court of Justice finding in the Placanica case.

Reuters reported this week that the European Commission will step up legal action against the four countries in a bid to open the betting market across the 27-nation European Union.

"The countries are Denmark, Finland, Hungary and Sweden," an unnamed source told Reuters, adding that the Commission was also "making final enquiries" in regard to Germany and the Netherlands.

"It represents a final warning before the countries are taken to the European Court of Justice, which can fine states that fail to change their law to conform with EU rules," the Reuters report concluded.

In the Placanica case against the Italian government, the European Court of Justice grand chamber of judgement ruled in favour of the free movement of trade and services among European Union nations, addressing the issue of certain states monopolising gambling by excluding private or foreign open competition.

The case is seen as pivotal on the vexing question of whether member states of the European Union have the right to exclude betting companies from other EU states from offering their services to gamblers in countries where the state often holds a lucrative monopoly on gambling. And where states claim to prohibit competition for the moral protection of their citizens, they cannot then discriminate by reaping the rewards of state-monopolised gambling

In the Placanica case, Massimiliano Placanica and two other bet shop operators who allowed people to place online bets with the UK's Stanley Leisure plc had faced criminal charges under Italian law because Stanley didn't have a local gaming license.

An 11-judge panel of the European Court in Luxembourg ruled: "The Italian criminal penalties for the collecting of bets by intermediaries acting on behalf of foreign companies are contrary to EU rules."

Predicting the likely result of the case may have been the impetus for the Italians to do an abrupt about-face, offering licensing for online gambling operations rather than trying to ban same late last year.

The Court's finding establishes once and for all that national licensing procedures cannot be applied in a de facto discriminatory manner against foreign gaming operators when it comes to cross border provision of gambling services.

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