Schleswig-Holstein’s licensing process will stay active until the EC approves its proposed new gambling laws, leaving the door ajar for more betting, poker and casino licences to be issued in the next three to four months.
In a statement to the parliament that dashed any lingering hopes among SPD politicians for a formal moratorium on the issue of further licences under its Gambling Act, interior minister Andreas Breitner (pictured) said “[T]he new laws can only come into force after the notification and consent procedure [with the European Commission] has been completed. The standstill period lasts for three months, but is extended to four months if a comment from another Member State is received. All of these steps have to be completed before the bill can have a second reading in the state parliament.
“Until then, the regional government is of course still bound by prevailing law, which means that additional licences can be granted. Gambling operators are legally entitled to receive a licence, as long as the relevant criteria are fulfilled. It also means that any licences that have already been granted remain valid for the specified [six-year] period.”
Germany’s northernmost Land is already being sued by existing online sports betting licence holders bwin and mybet over alleged delays in the issue of their online poker and casino licences. Schleswig-Holstein has received 28 applications for sports betting, on top of the seven it issued back in May, and 21 applications to offer online casino games, including online poker. In contrast to the Gambling Act the SPD, Green and SSW coalition is looking to repeal, which provides for the issue of unlimited licences for all products based on a 20% gross profit tax, the Interstate Treaty backed by the other 15 Lander it is looking to join would issue just 20 sports betting licences based on a punitive 5% stakes tax and reinstates the ban on online poker and casino across Germany.
In introducing the government’s legislative package for the “safe way to exit from the Gambling Act and the entry into the Treaty”, Breitner admitted it was impossible to suspend the Act and its provisions ahead of going through the correct procedure with the EC, because this would replace it with a “lawless state” under which no prohibitions on gambling would exist, “which cannot be in our interest.”
The leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) group in the state parliament, Wolfgang Kubicki, however warned of potential compensation claims from gambling operators, and accused the Social Democrat (SPD) leader, Ralf Stegner, of corrupting the debate with personal insults. Stegner had accused Kubicki, as well as the Christian Democrat (CDU) chief whip, Hans-Jörn Arp, of promoting prostitution and money laundering. According to a quote in Die Welt, Kubicki called on Stegner to desist from such attacks or else he was in for “an interesting time around here”.
The newly elected opposition Pirate Party also joined with the FDP and CDU parties in attacking the new SPD-led coalition government’s plan of action, with MP Patrick Breyer calling the Interstate Treaty “unacceptable” because it forced players offshore to foreign providers who were unregulated by German authorities. Arp also argued that Schleswig-Holstein currently had “Europe’s most advanced gaming law” and expressed doubt whether the new laws would gain approval in Brussels. Kubicki also recalled that the region’s newly elected Minister-President, Torsten Albig of the SPD, had previously encouraged gambling companies to set up in the region during his time as mayor of Kiel.
Stegner however blamed the tricky legal situation on the FDP and CDU for pushing through the Gambling Act before they lost power in the recent elections, while Rasmus Andresen of the Green Party and Lars Harms of the SSW argued against a liberalised betting and gaming market on the basis that it created more problem gamblers.
Following their first reading by the parliament today, the bills are being considered by the Legal Committee and the Finance Committee.