EC takes action against Greece, Netherlands

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Greece and the Netherlands are the next countries to be caught in the European Commission's crosshairs for their online gambling policies.

The Commission announced today it has formally requested that the two nations amend their respective laws, following consideration of their replies to its official requests for information about their online gambling policies.

The EC was seeking to verify whether the restrictions in question are compatible with Article 49 of the EC Treaty, which guarantees the free movement of services.

The complaints against Greece involve the fact that providers lawfully licensed in another EU Member State are not allowed to provide sports betting services and other games of chance in Greece. Those restrictions also extend to the promotion or advertising of the services and to whether Greek nationals can participate in the game.

According to the EC, the Dutch investigation relates only to the provision and promotion of sports betting services.

The EC inquired into the compatibility of both nations' laws with the EU law after receiving complaints made by a number of service providers and on information gathered by Commission staff.

After receiving responses from Greece and the Netherlands, the EC has determined that restrictions in question aren't compatible with EU law.

The EC said in a press release that "the measures taken by these Member States to restrict the free movement of gambling services have not been shown to be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory."

The EC also said it considers that because both nations have recently introduced new addictive games and intensive advertising, and neither has implemented concrete measures against gambling addiction, there is clear evidence that neither country is promoting a consistent and systematic policy aimed at genuinely reducing gambling opportunities.

The European Gaming and Betting Association said today it welcomes the EC decision on Greece and the Netherlands' online gambling laws and the formal request to have the countries amend their laws.

"Today's reasoned opinions send a clear signal that national gaming legislation, which does not serve any genuine consumer protection or public order interest, has no future," said Sigrid Ligne, EGBA secretary general. "Leading European online operators are now calling on Greece and the Netherlands to implement sustainable reforms that will guarantee a fair, open and regulated market access".

Greece and the Netherlands have two months to respond to the EC's request to amend their online gambling policies. If the EC doesn't receive a satisfactory reply within two months, it may refer the matters to the European Court of Justice.

The European Court of Justice has previously ruled that any restrictions which seek to protect general interest objectives, such as the protection of consumers, must be "consistent and systematic" in how they seek to limit gambling activities.

"A Member State cannot invoke the need to restrict its citizens' access to gambling services if at the same time it incites and encourages them to participate in state lotteries, games of chance or betting which benefits the state's finances," the EC said in a press release.

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