Thursday

14th Dec 2017

EU court backs right to restrict online gambling

  • Children gambling online at internet cafe (Photo: Orin Zebest)

Europe's highest court has ruled that governments are within their rights to restrict online gambling.

The European Court of Justice on Thursday (3 June) found that the Netherlands was allowed to block access to betting sites from the UK.

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Websites from British firms Ladbrokes and Betfair had been made inaccessible to Dutch residents, a move that the companies argued in two different cases flouted EU rules designed to allow firms to provide goods or services anywhere in the bloc.

They argued that by blocking their sites the country was working to protect the Dutch national lottery firm, De Lotto, which has a monopoly on sports betting, from competition.

Its revenues are employed to fund health care, sporting events and other public endeavours.

In its ruling, which covers the whole of the EU, the court however said that member states could indeed block access if such laws meet "the objectives of consumer protection and the prevention of both fraud and incitement to squander money on gambling, as well as the need to preserve public order."

"A member state can prohibit the operation of games of chance on the internet," it said.

The Dutch gambling outfit cheered the ruling, saying public welfare took precedence over the free market.

"Ongoing attempts by the commercial gambling lobby to undermine the restrictive Dutch policy have at last been called to a halt by the European Court," De Lotto director Tjeerd Veenstra said in a statement. "The principles of the free market are subordinate to overriding principles of public policy aimed at preventing addiction and fraud."

European gambling firms however reacted by calling for the European Commission to propose new legislation for the sector.

Sigrid Ligne, of the European Gambling and Betting Association said: "The internet raises new questions and challenges that cannot be resolved through the judicial process. It is for the European legislator to ensure that this IT-based medium which allows for the highest security standards warrants consistent customer protection and fraud control throughout the EU." 

"As confirmed by internal market commissioner Barnier, there is momentum to take action at EU level in the context of a Green Paper and - whenever necessary - through infringement procedures against Member States that do not comply with EU law.  

"We are confident that reform of the gambling laws will take place in the Netherlands, as they already do throughout the EU," she added.

Focus

Spanish charity fears liberalisation of online gambling

The European Commission opened a legal, political and cultural can of worms when earlier this year it said it would take a closer look at online gambling in the EU. Spain's association for blind people is particularly concerned.

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Bucharest expects other member states to decide on its accession to the passport-free area before it takes the rotating EU presidency on 1 January 2019 - amid criticism of a controversial new justice reform.

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