European Court questions state control of betting

BRUSSELS – A European Court opinion, issued yesterday, may have repercussions for the business of the official, state-controlled online betting and gaming industry in Greece. In reply to a question prompted by a question on the sentencing of a private subcontractor of a British betting operator in Italy, the court considered that a full ban on privately operated and foreign betting companies, as it applies in Italy, is contrary to European Union legislation, «amounting to a restriction of the freedom of establishment, the free provision of services and the freedom of acceptance of services,» which constitute fundamental characteristics of the European single market. Such a ban can only be justified, the court opined, if the state demonstrates that it is necessary «for the protection of consumers and the social order, taking into account peculiarities of moral, religious or cultural nature, as well as moral and economic consequences on the individual and society.» Moreover, if the member state encourages participation in lotteries, games of chance and betting for the purpose of raising funds for the public purse, it cannot invoke the maintenance of public order as a justification for restrictive measures, the European Court said. The opinion is evidently also relevant to betting through the Internet.