Gambling: ECJ advocate general backs state monopoly concept
12/18/09 – The Dutch government's efforts to maintain the state monopoly on online gambling were given a boost Thursday when the advocate general of the European Court of Justice opined that EU member states can grant a single operator the right to run betting and gaming as a monopoly.
The Financial Times reports that in addition, in the AG's opinion, member states do not have to recognise gambling licences obtained in other EU countries.
The advocate general's comments refer to two cases involving online gambling giants Ladbrokes and Betfair against the Dutch state-owned monopoly De Lotto.
However the AG's opinion also includes a note that article 49 of the EC Treaty must be interpreted such that: “…the principle of equal treatment and the transparency requirement that flows from it also applies to the gambling sector in the context of a single license regime.” This could be interpreted as questioning De Lotto’s right to act as Holland's sole legal supplier of online gaming, online sports bets and the national lottery without having to compete in a tender process against EU-licensed lottery providers.
Betfair has been fighting for a licence to operate in the Netherlands since early 2008 and took the issue to the European Court earlier this year. Ladbrokes has been under fire from the Dutch government for illegally targeting Dutch punters.
The advocate general's opinion is not binding but in the past has usually been adopted by the ECJ.
Although the Dutch will undoubtedly regard the opinion as a victory in the case, further legal argument has still to be heard, with a judgement expected next year.
John O'Reilly, md for remote betting at Ladbrokes commented: "We continue to believe that the ECJ should uphold principles of free and fair competition across borders as there is no logic in the fact that the Dutch monopoly could freely compete against us in the UK but we are prevented from accepting bets from any Dutch resident that finds us on the Internet.”
Sigrid Ligné, Secretary General the influential trade association European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), which represents most of Europe's major online gambling groups, said: “This is a key question for the Court given that the exclusive licence has repeatedly been handed out to De Lotto without any form of tender.”