European Union Serves Official Notice To Restricted Countries

In response to complaints from sports betting operators the European Commission has sent official requests for reports on the national legislation restricting the supply of sport betting services to seven Member States: Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands.

Some press releases are so far misleading and contradicting the fact that the Commission’s actions may not necessarily result in opening up the sports betting markets in the countries involved.

The complaints center around the restrictions on provision of sports betting services, requirements for a State concession or license (even where a provider is lawfully licensed in another Member State) and in some cases restrictions on the promotion or advertising of the services and the participation of nationals in the Member State in question.

The European Court of Justice has previously stated that any restrictions seeking to protect consumers must be consistent in how they limit betting activities. A Member State cannot restrict its citizen’s access to betting services while at the same time encouraging them to participate in state lotteries, games of chance or betting that benefits the state’s finances.

The formal requests are the first step in an infringement procedure under Article 226 of the EC Treaty. The Member States in question have two months to respond.

Internal Market and Services Commissioner Charlie McCreevy stated “I don’t underestimate the sensitivities that exist in many member States on the question of gambling. In sending these letters, we are not seeking to liberalize the market in any way. Rather, we are seeking reassurance that whatever measures Member States have in place are fully compatible with existing EU law, or have been brought fully into line. I hope that the replies we receive will offer us sufficient reassurance. In that case, it will be the end of the matter. I will certainly do what I can to facilitate an early resolution, and I encourage all concerned to play their part too.”

Due to the complaints received the Commission feels obliged to respond, deciding to seek the information from the Member States concerned, and aims to confirm whether their national legislation is compatible with Article 49 of the EC Treaty which guarantees free movement of services. This decision relates only to the compatibility of the national measures in question with existing EU law, and only to the field of sports betting.

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