European Commission takes action to open gaming market

The European Commission announced today that it has taken action to open up the gambling market in Denmark, Finland and Hungary. The commission is asking those member states to change their restrictions to comply with laws guaranteeing the free movement of service.

This action is the result of infringement proceedings that were started against seven European Union member states in spring 2006. The EU had received complaints that those nations were impeding free trade by restricting online gambling services.

Letters of formal notice were sent out to the member states in April 2006, and based on the responses it received, the European Commission ruled that Denmark, Finland and Hungary were indeed in violation of EU law.

The commission decided the restrictions in question are not compatible with existing EU law and have not been shown to be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory.

"Furthermore, in the commission's view, existing national operators cannot be regarded as non-profit operations, given that they are subject to strict annual revenue targets and often rely on commercial retail outlets to market their various gambling services," the commission said in a release.

The nations in question have two months to remove the restrictions or give a satisfactory reply to the commission or it will refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.

"The decision to continue infringement proceedings against three member states simultaneously is a clear warning addressed to France, Germany and Austria to remove their current restrictions on cross-border gaming immediately," said Norbert Teufelberger, Bwin co-CEO

The European Betting Association (EBA) also welcomed the decision by the European Commission.

"None of (the member states) have shown any indication or willingness to reconsider their monopolistic restrictions or to engage in a process of contructive diologue with other stakeholders," the EBA said in a press release.

Many of the member states in question have actually chosen to enact even more restrictions and give their own state-owned or state-controlled operators a chance to expand and advertise their products and services.

"We hope that the countries addressed by today's decision will now engage quickly in the necessary reforms," said Sigrid Ligna, EBA secretary general.

The secretary general continued saying, "There are several other member states that are under similar investigation, and we invite them to move towards recognition and licensing schemes for the European private online operators to compete cross border in the internal market."

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