PLUS Lotto Challenges English Law in European Court

17 March 1999

With the new presence of European law comes all kinds of opportunities to test its boundaries, interpretations and flexibility. On the Internet gambling front, PLUS Lotto, an online lottery licensed by the government of Liechtenstein, is one of the first to step up to the plate. The company runs a huge end-of-the-millennium lottery draw called Millions2000 and they've recently applied with the European Court to allow them to promote it in the United Kingdom via traditional media.

UK lottery law currently prohibits the promotion of such a lottery, however, experts at Electrofunco—the company responsible for promoting Millions2000—believe that such prohibition impedes free trade and is contrary to European law (specifically, Article 59 of the Treaty of Rome).

Legal Council for Electrofunco is confident that permission will be granted. So is Chairman David Vanrenen. "The restrictions imposed by UK lottery law are designed to protect the young, avoid stimulating gambling and prevent crime," Vanrenen said. "We have in place controls which more than adequately answer those concerns. A blanket prohibition on Millions2000 is neither necessary nor proportionate to protect the vulnerable and prevent crime. UK law does seem to be out of step with European law and we expect that the Courts will support us."

"The Applicants have bent over backwards to structure their lottery in such a way that it meets all concerns that the UK government could legitimately have on each of these matters," said Thomas Sharpe QC of Electrofunco. "Indeed, the controls envisaged go much further in several respects than the National lottery. For example, the minimum age to play will be 18 and not 16; no cash will change hands All transactions will be 'cashless', by credit card There will be only one big draw at the millennium, not two per week, every week.

"The UK government's interest in maintaining a monopoly for Camelot is understandable given the huge revenues accruing in tax to the Exchequer and the ways in which 'good causes' are being redefined to include education and training. But none of this matters because these considerations are irrelevant under Community law. The government's prohibition on competing lotteries which meet the government's own standards is illegal."

If the permission to promote Millions2000 via traditional media is granted by the European Court, Electrofunco will be permitted to do so throughout the European Union. Such a decision would give PLUS Lotto a platform to bring deliver its products to a much broader audience than ever before. It could also open the doors for competing operations to follow suit.

The Court is expected to deliver a ruling by the end of the month.