1/6/10 – This week Right2bet are taking a closer look at the Norwegian government’s decision to deny its citizens the basic consumer right to access a gambling market with competition between operators. Instead, the people of Norway have just two routes through which to gamble: the state run online gaming operators, Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto.

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As a non-EU member, Norway’s legalization is not bound by the competition laws in place under Article 49 of the EU Charter, and monitored by the European Commission to ensure compliance form member states. Yet despite this independence from the EU, the Norwegian government has defended the oppressive conditions that deny its citizens an open market by drawing on the same arguments made by the European courts in upholding similar monopolies in the Netherlands and Portugal.

Bans on private sector operators are desirable, it is argued, because licences granted in one country to an operator deemed legitimate offer no guarantees to other countries that these companies will take the necessary measures to limit economic crime.

This view is refuted by empirical evidence from the independent standards authority of the online gaming industry, eCOGRA, which indicates that two thirds of the responsible gaming standards implemented by leading operators in the private sector exceed the standards applied by the ten largest gambling monopolies in Europe.

The defence used by the Norwegian government highlights the dangerous precedent the European courts have created in issuing the rulings contradicting the competition laws of Article 49. While state run operators have been shown to provide no more protection against economic crime than the private sector, the repeated citing of this argument by the European courts grants the notion legitimacy. This risks encouraging more countries to issue blanket bans on private sector gaming companies rather than implementing effective regulation to ensure best codes of practice and services for consumers.

The European Commission has not worked nearly hard enough to ensure that the provisions of Article 49 are adhered to, resulting in widely criticised reforms such as the unworkable French model in which betting exchanges remain excluded from the gambling sector. The failure of the Commission to implement EU law is only being exacerbated by the European Court of Justice rulings which have prevented leading private sector firms from accessing the markets of the Netherlands and Portugal, despite legal challenges to the monopolies existing in these countries.

The stance of Norway goes to show that the verdicts of the European courts have ramifications beyond the European Union, but the Right2bet campaign hopes that more governments examine the evidence over which sector provides better protection against economic crime in the gambling industry, rather than denying consumers the freedom to choose their operator based on misguided assumptions.

The Right2bet campaign continues its pursuit of an open gambling market across the EU.
The petition can be found at www.right2bet.net