Eye on Europe - Oct. 18, 2006

18 October 2006

Injunction A -- During the Fifth Annual European I-Gaming Congress & Expo in Barcelona last week, conference participants heard that the College of European Commissioners has opened new infringement proceedings against Italy (for a second time), France and Austria for restricting the provision of sports betting and gambling services in contradiction to the European Union (EU) Treaty and settled case law of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). With these new proceedings, the number of member states whose gambling legislation is under investigation by the European Commission climbs to nine; the Commission launched similar infringement proceedings on April 4, 2006 against Italy, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. "How long must EU-licensed and regulated operators endure legislation which causes wrongful financial harm and deprives their executives of even the basic right to travel freely in the EU member states?" asks Didier Dewyn, secretary general of the European Betting Association. "We hope these new proceedings will put an end to the witch hunts against private EU-licensed operators."

Injunction B -- Yan Pecoraro, one of the dozen Italian attorneys of the Portolano Colella Cavallo firm, notes, "The EU Commission sent the injunction to the Italian government regarding the "blacklist." As per the EU Commission, the blacklist would be unjustified under EU principles. This is because the restrictions to the provision of I-betting services by EU-providers are not justified under EU rules. The EU Commission recalls in the injunction the principles established in the Gambelli case law. (Any restriction to freedom to provide services within the EU territory is valid only if justified by imperative requirements in the general interest, such as consumer protection, prevention of fraud and incitement to squander on gaming.)" Those three injunctions were sent to Italy, France and Austria, which each have two months to send their comments/clarifications on the injunction.

Parliament Questions -- On Sept. 15, the two co-CEOs of the Austrian gambling operator bwin were arrested in France and held for four days on charges of violation of the French legislation introduced to protect the operations of the state gambling monopoly, Française des Jeux (FdJ). French authorities proclaimed that further arrests could follow. As a result, several other gambling operators fully and legally licensed to operate and provide their services in EU member states have advised their executives to restrict their traveling, primarily in France. The French legislation in question is, of course, raising serious issues of compatibility with the fundamental freedoms of establishment (Article 43) and of the provision of services (Article 49) in the internal market as enshrined in the EU Treaty. The European Commission is being asked via various complaints to investigate these issues. It is also affecting in practice another fundamental principle: the freedom for citizens of the EU to circulate freely and safely from unfair prosecution in all member states. Finnish Member of the European Parliament Henrik Lax (of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) on Oct. 5 asked the following questions in the parliament on private sports betting in the internal market: 1. Does the Commission find it acceptable that professionals complying in full with all requirements of their country of origin in the EU risk arrest and prosecution in other EU member states? 2. What assurances can the Commission give that businesses will not be forced to be issuing travel recommendations in the EU to their executives due to the protectionist policies of Member States? 3. Does the Commission intend to take action? If yes, when? We'll update you when the answers become known.

L'histoire se répète -- According to Bloomberg, the Moscow Olympic Lottery, in which Greece's Intralot and Malaysia's Tanjong have a 49 percent joint stake, said draws have been suspended, without giving a reason.

One Man's Death Is another Man's Breath -- Lottery operator OPAP was up Friday 0.7 percent to 27.32 euro on news that it is lobbying the state to pass laws against illegal Internet gambling competition.

Stress? -- The October 2006 Labor UNIeBulletin (news for trade unions in a global services economy) included the following statement: "Unions in the gaming sector are being urged to step up their work tackling stress. A recent report from Argentine gaming affiliate ALEARA urges stress management programs and regular psychological and medical check-ups for gambling workers. Not knowing how to handle highly emotional gaming situations is one of the main sources of stress." How would that be possible in this industry?

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.