The European Commission has threatened enforcement action against EU Member States if they fail to bring their gambling regimes into compliance with EU law, including referring their cases to the CJEU.
In a potentially positive development for online operators who have been locked in legal battles with state monopolies over access to EU Member States’ gambling markets, the EC stated today that: “Ensuring compliance of national law with the Treaty is…a prerequisite of a successful EU policy on online gambling”. It also confirmed the intent first iterated by internal markets commissioner Michel Barnier in June to: “Accelerate completion of its assessment of national provisions in the pending infringements cases and complaints and take enforcement action wherever necessary.”
All Member States against which infringement proceedings are pending or which formal complaints have been received will be required to provide up-to-date information so the EC can assess the compliance of their online gambling regimes with European law. The EC confirmed it would then, if necessary, take action to enforce the relevant Treaty provisions – Articles 56 and 49 relating to operators’ freedom to provide services and establishment rights – in respect of any Member States not complying with EU law.
Formally announcing the step change in EC investigations into Member States’ gambling laws in Strasbourg today, Barnier said: “Thanks to the public consultation and the jurisprudence of the Court, we are now in a position to identify what I would call ‘red lines’…And if certain Member States clearly cross these ‘red lines’, we will do our job and react in our role as Guardian of the Treaties.”
Nine infringement cases against eight EU Member States remain pending, at various stages, since 2008: the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia and Sweden (two cases). Around 30 formal complaints have also been lodged against the gambling laws of 16 Member States, most recently against Germany’s restrictive opening for sports betting and continued ban on the offer of online poker and casino.
The EC confirmed the positive development for online operators in its long-awaited Communication, Towards a comprehensive European framework on online gambling, its action plan aimed at providing greater clarity for governments, regulators, industry participants and consumers in relation to online gambling throughout Europe.
In addition to ensuring the compliance of national regulatory frameworks with EU law, the EC’s four other points of action unveiled today were:
- Enhancing administrative cooperation: The EC will establish an expert working group on gambling composed of representatives from Member States by December 2012, “to exchange experiences and good practices as well as to provide advice and expertise on the preparation of EU initiatives”. Plus formal cooperation between regulators by 2013
- Consumer protection: To protect consumers and citizens, particularly minors and vulnerable groups from problem gambling or gambling addiction, the Commission will adopt recommendations on common protection of consumers and on responsible gambling advertising in 2013. The Commission will also support benchmarking and testing of parental control tools
- Preventing fraud and money laundering: EC will look into potentially extending the scope of the AML Directive currently applied to land-based casinos to all forms of gambling in 2012 and explore the possibility of an EU standard on gambling equipment including gambling software in 2013
- Safeguarding the integrity of sports and preventing match-fixing: The Commission will adopt a recommendation on best practices in the prevention and combatting of betting-related match fixing in 2014, among other measures
Article written by Stephen Carter