EGBA wants action on Finnish online gambling

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Finland is proposing changes to its lotteries act that have the European Gaming and Betting Association welcoming action from the European Commission on the issue.

Finland's existing laws dealing with online gambling were already called into question by the European Commission back in 2007.

The European Commission ruled in early 2007 that Finland's online gambling laws are in violation of the European Union regulations guaranteeing the free movement of services between member states.

After receiving notice of the ruling, Finland had two months to remove the restriction or give a satisfactory reply to the European Commission as to why its laws weren't actually violating EU laws.

Finland doesn't allow online gambling from outside companies. Instead, it only permits one in-country company, Veikkas, to provide those services to its residents.

Officials in Finland have argued that the monopoly is needed in order to keep gambling under control in the nation.

The European Commission doesn't agree that is a valid argument for a gambling monopoly, and has been in the process of bringing infringement procedures against Finland.

Meanwhile, Finland has drafted provisions that even further restrict indirect marketing of gambling services for operators who don't have a Finnish license. The changes also include fines and prison sentences of up to two years for both media members and online gaming company staff found to be operating or marketing those illegal activities.

"These additional restrictions are, however, not aimed at enhancing consumer protection in a consistent and systematic manner, as they will not apply to the Finnish government's own gambling activities, which will still be allowed to conduct extensive and aggressive marketing campaigns," the EGBA said.

The organization also pointed out that RAY, the Finnish slot machine association, announced its intention to launch an Internet poker site later this year.

"This shows all too clearly that the Finnish authorities have for the past two years - during which the Commission has been delaying Finland's referral to the ECJ - enhanced their protectionist legislation rather than removed it," said Sigrid Ligne, EGBA secretary general.

When Finland decided to make the changes to the lotteries act, those changes were notified to EU member states as well as to EU Commissioner Gunter Verheugen.

According to the EGBA, the notification procedure is meant to prevent member states from creating new barriers to the internal market freedoms by giving the opportunity to the Commission and member states to evaluate the content of a draft law before it is adopted.

In this case, the European Commission chose to issue formal comments against the proposed changes. Comments issued by the European Commission in the context of the notification procedure indicate that it considers that the submitted text raises issues or requires further details for clearer interpretation.

Ligne seems to think that the issues raised by the proposed changes to the law couldn't be any clearer.

"The rights of EU licensed gaming and betting operators as well as those of Finnish newspapers and media have been ignored for too long and the situation is only deteriorating," Ligne said. "The Commission's patience has clearly not paid off. We now call on the Guardian of the Treaty to defend our rights and to bring Finland to the ECJ."

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