Thursday June 30, 2011 : But only if it is applied consistently to fight the dangers of gambling
 
The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that France may keep its horse betting monopoly…but only if it is applied consistently to fight the dangers of gambling, reports the Reuters news service.
 
The ruling represents something of a setback for European internet betting corporates that have been using litigation break national monopolies, and it came after the court found in June last year that EU member states can ban online gambling if the prohibition aims to combat fraud.
 
The ECJ ruling is a consequence of a case in which Maltese online horse betting website Zeturf sought to overturn French legalization giving PMU (Pari Mutuel Urbain) a monopoly in betting on horse racing in France. The French court originally hearing the case had sought advice from the Luxembourg-based ECJ in reaching its decision.
 
PMU, which markets betting on horse racing in France, is a group of non-profit racing associations and is supervised by the French agriculture and public accounts ministries, Reuters reports.
 
The ECJ said it was now up to the originating French court to determine if the state controls of PMU's activities "are actually implemented in the consistent and systematic pursuit of the objectives sought by the establishment of the system whereby exclusive rights are conferred on the PMU".
 
Reacting the ruling, The European Gaming and Betting Association, a trade group for leading European online gambling companies, emphasised that a monopoly can only be justified if findings prove that gambling related problems actually exist and a particularly high level of consumer protection is granted.
 
"This ruling, which concerns the former law, also adds pressure on the current French gambling legalization that was introduced in May 2010," said EGBA secretary-general Sigrid Ligne, welcoming the ECJ decision as stating once again that an EU Member State is not permitted to close its gambling market on public policy grounds while, at the same time, allowing its own monopoly operator to employ aggressive marketing campaigns.
 
"Since the French legislator has not considered it necessary to make a distinction between land-based and online distribution channels at the time of the referral, the national courts must assess the consistent and systematic approach of the French legalization as regards the entire horserace betting sector both online and offline," opined Ligne.
 
"Today´s ruling confirms that Member States have to choose between either a monopoly with policies which are genuinely designed to reduce gambling opportunities, or a well regulated market where also EU operators can provide their services. It is a clear question of consistency," she added.
 
Several complaints against the new French law of May 2010, partially regulating the online gambling market, are still pending both in France and at the European Commission. Separately, the Commission has already opened a State aid investigation against the French parafiscal levy on online horse-race betting, the decision on which is expected in the second half of 2011 (State aid case C 34/10).