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EU Rules Against Gambling Protectionism
by Max Drayman

In a recent EU Court of Justice ruling, Italy was told to stop filing legal actions against bookmakers from other European countries for operating betting shops within Italian borders. This decision could have an enormous effect on gambling interests throughout the EU.

Like many other countries, including the U.S. and Canada, many EU members make huge revenues from their state run lotteries and state-issued gambling licenses: Sweden 2.7 billion Euros (USD$3.6B) per year, Finland .5 billion Euros (USD$.67B), etc. As the market barriers within the EU continue to fall a number of member countries—France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden—have moved to protect their home state gambling revenue by blocking, or threatening to block, other member states from entering their markets. This has widely been seen as a move to protect their state monopolies.

This is what the EU ruling specifically prohibits. By failing to satisfy the Brussels-based Court’s ruling that the market regulations being applied are "necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory" the 11-judge Court panel has ruled that 'The Italian criminal penalties for the collecting of bets by intermediaries acting on behalf of foreign companies are contrary to EU rules'.

This comes as a welcome decision to EU members like the U.K. who are taking a much more open-market approach toward casino and gambling interests. Damaged by recent protectionist moves with the U.S.—widely accepted as totaling 50 percent or more of the international gaming market—gambling interests worldwide have been looking for new and healthier marketplaces. Speaking late last year PartyGaming chief executive Mitch Garber said, "The European Union is run in a way that favors our business." An opinion shared by many of the internet gaming operators who have been forced to withdraw from the U.S. market.

As tempting as it would be to read all good things into the recent ruling, it's important to note that sports-betting is specifically cited, not internet gambling as a whole. Also, the ruling does not affect the current provisions that allow a member country to block outside participation on the grounds that such measures are being taken to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens. Based on recent moves by France and Germany to block internet gambling as a whole it's highly probable that the EU Court will be seeing related cases in the near future.

Thus far the market has responded favorably; shares in some of the biggest U.K. gambling firms rose following the Court's announcement.

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