European Union Law Over State Regulations In Online Gaming Case Upheld By The ECJ
Friday, 29. January 2010

The affect of European Union law on gaming regulations as they pertain to individual states within the Union was clarified in a recent decision by the European Union Court of Justice. The EJC ruling in the case, Winner Wetten v. Mayor of Bergheim, earlier this month stated that all national gaming laws needed to be consistent with EU law, denying German exception to the preexisting EU regulation allowing for free trade and fair competition.

At the heart of the case was German company Winner Wetten that was accepting sports bets on behalf of Tipico, a Maltese company. While Tipico maintains a Maltese gambling license, the mayor of Bergheim ordered Winner Wetten to cease its betting operations as they lacked a gaming license issued by the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia. Winner Wetten brought the case before the EJC claiming that the mayor’s actions violated EU treaty law promising companies the freedom to establish a business and provide services.

An opinion on the matter was issued on January 26, 20010 by Advocate General Bot of the EJC favoring Winner Wetten, stating that the existing laws of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia regarding sports betting were in violation of EU law. The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has issued only one gaming license to date to the Westdeutsche Lotterie, one of a number of state run lotteries in Germany.

The German government argued in the case that Germany should be granted exception to EU treaty laws stating the case pertained to online gaming versus some other type of business. Advocate General Bot ruled that EU law does not allow for such exceptions and took it a step further by stating that it would not be in the interest of European consumers to make exceptions that prevent consistency in regulation, even in online gaming. In the end, Advocate General Bot’s ruling means that state laws must be consistent with EU treaty laws, without exception.

The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) was quick to comment on the landmark ruling on their organization’s official website. EGBA Secretary General Sigrid Ligne made it clear stating that the “opinion is crucial for developments in German.” Ligne stated that the EGBA fully supports Advocate General Bot’s ruling and hopes that it will hail an era of more consistent regulation of online gambling throughout the European Union.

Advocate General Bot’s ruling in the Winner Wetten case stands in absolute contrast to the gambling-related decision issued last fall by the EJC in the case stemming from the sponsorship of a Portuguese soccer team by the online gaming group bwin even though bwin did not have a license to offer gambling services in Portugal. The government of Portugal enjoys a statewide monopoly on online gaming and ordered the sponsorship deal to cease immediately. In ruling in favor of Portugal, the EJC stated that Portugal’s gaming restrictions were both reasonable and legal.

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