Last week saw the highest court in Europe rule that member states may ban the operation of online groups within their countries, if this is in line with their efforts to prevent crime and fraud. The large blow came following the challenge initiated by two of the United Kingdom’s largest betting firms, Betfair and Ladbrokes, when they were restricted from operating in The Netherlands.
As it stands, only the Dutch lotto group is currently allowed to operate within the country, as the exclusive license holder in The Netherlands.
Following the decision made by the ECJ, Betfair have stated that they will apply for a licence to operate in The Netherlands at the first opportunity. Betfair welcomes the court’s actions to allocate sports betting licences in order to work towards a more transparent and equal market. However, Betfair’s Director of European Public Affairs, Tim Philips said: “Until we get a clear lead from the Commission, gambling consumers will continue to be told that their preferred leisure activity is the only one in Europe which doesn’t benefit from an open market. ECJ rulings are not addressing the simple fact that consumer choice between regulated products is being dictated to in a manner which no other industry has to accept”.
John O’Reilly, Ladbrokes MD of Remote Betting and Gaming also believe that a clear legal framework is required. He said: “The Ladbrokes and Betfair cases have clearly demonstrated the fragility of the entire Dutch legal framework in relation to gambling. Today’s ruling confirms the need for its replacement with a system that incorporates strong regulation and licensing, but also introduces competition for the benefit of consumers. Other EU countries have introduced new licensing and regulation systems that embrace competition – it is now time for the Netherlands to do the same”.
This case could have major repercussions on the online gaming industry, as this ruling may be used by other member states to prevent the operation of foreign companies within their countries. Until EU law surrounding the online gaming industry is harmonised, this many cause some instability for other operators hoping to extend operations in the EU.