Eye on Europe - 20 August 2007

20 August 2007

Joker, Poker -- Starting Jan. 1, 2008, the Dutch government will only allow poker gaming via the Web site of the Dutch casino monopoly, Holland Casino. Justice Minster Hirsch Ballin has the opinion that the state can regulate poker in this manner. The Dutch poker association, however, has a totally different view. The association counted more than 1 million active poker players in the Netherlands, and it expects foreign poker operators to take over a huge vacuum. Above that, the Dutch gaming board advised Ballin to legalize poker up to a certain betting limit, but that proposal was pushed aside immediately by the Christian Party minister, who is afraid that legalizing will create even more new poker players.

Turning Point for bwin? -- Austria-based bwin Interactive Entertainment AG scored another win in the fight against the state gambling monopolies in Europe. The regional higher court of Vienna (OLG) recognized at the end of July that the valid Austrian gambling rights are not compatible with European Community laws--a judgment that fits in a series of preceding court cases. Further, the German Federal Higher Court in Saarland announced that a betting operator has been acquitted of illegal wrongdoing. The legal gambling situation was "unclear," therefore the operator--between 2003 and 2004--in an "unavoidable prohibition mistake" was confirmed by the BGH-senate (a criminal law chamber of the federal court), a judgment of a national court. Background for the judgment is a complaint from the Viennese Omni Communication-Centers GmbH against operators bwin and Bet-at-Home.com concerning the broadcasting of commercials via ORF (the public broadcaster) and ATV (the commercial broadcaster). The offering of poker, roulette and other Internet games should be not allowed because no such national betting licenses are issued, Omni justified. The complaint was rejected in its first instance, but has since been confirmed by the OLG. The OLG states that bwin is offering games of chance, which is exclusively reserved for Casino Austria AG, the casino and lottery monopoly; however, the judge refers to the judgments of the European Court of Justice, which noted in March 2007 that gambling is a principle part of the EU freedom of services. National restrictions are, therefore permissible, but they may be neither disproportionate nor discriminating.

Greece's Big Brothers -- The two main players in Greece, Intralot and OPAP, have announced a three-year, $132 million agreement through which Intralot will upgrade OPAP's fixed-odds game, "Stihima," as well as its risk management software. Intralot will also upgrade the centralized software and hardware systems for OPAP and install 29,400 new terminals. OPAP, meanwhile, is taking over operations of the computer centers and has acquired the source code of all software of its existing and future games, as well as the property rights to use the new games software to be developed. All this comes after the cancellation of the original tender, followed by a new tender procedure and the resignation of several top OPAP managers. So OPAP, one of the world's biggest betting groups by market value, and Intralot, a leading global supplier of integrated gaming and transaction processing systems, are finally again communicating with each other. The news was not good, however, for GTECH and Scientific Games, who were caught off guard by the agreement between the "Big Brothers." According to Thomson Financial News, GTECH and Scientific Games had been bidding on OPAP's long-running IT and terminals tender for the last 18 months.

Rob van der Gaast has a background in sports journalism. He worked for over seven years as the head of sports for Dutch National Radio and has developed new concepts for the TV and the gambling industry. Now he operates from Istanbul as an independent gambling research analyst. He specializes in European gambling matters and in privatizations of gambling operators. Rob has contributed to IGN since Jul 09, 2001.