Sanctions on gaming?

BRUSSELS – The European Commission gave Greece and the Netherlands a final warning before court action over restrictions in their gaming markets yesterday, the latest move in a push by Brussels to boost competition. The countries have two months to reply. Failure to do so or a response deemed inadequate could mean they face the European Union’s top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ). «The complaints against Greece concern the fact that providers lawfully licensed in another member state are not allowed to provide sports betting services and other games of chance in Greece,» the EU executive body said in a statement. «The Dutch investigation relates only to provision and promotion of sports betting services,» the Commission said. Some EU states have said curbs on competition are needed to cut addiction to gambling. But the Commission said that, in the case of Greece and the Netherlands, the introduction of «new addictive games, intensive and increasing advertising and absence of concrete measures against gambling addiction contradicted that argument.» Dutch state lottery De Lotto said there are no harmonized EU rules on sports betting and that the Commission’s decision was prompted by pressure from primarily UK-based online bookmakers. «The European Commission seems to have set its sights on one big, pan-European betting market,» De Lotto Chief Executive Officer Tjeerd Veenstra said. There was no support for creating a pan-EU gaming market and the Dutch system keeps social costs arising from addiction and crime under control, Veenstra said. The ECJ has ruled that EU states can restrict gaming but only in a proportionate and non-discriminatory way. Greek gaming company OPAP is listed on the Athens stock exchange and is an effective monopoly in its home market but competes with other operators in Cyprus. Stanleybet International, a UK-based gaming firm, is trying to set up shop in Greece and welcomed the decision. «Today’s decision is another blow to member states who do not wish to play their part,» Managing Director John Whittaker said. His company urged European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Charlie McCreevy to pursue actions against Denmark, Hungary and Finland and take them to the ECJ. Responding to the warning, OPAP will defend its monopoly position in the Greek betting market. «The Commission’s move does not affect OPAP’s rights,» OPAP Chief Executive Christos Hadjiemmanuil said in a statement. «We will use all available means… to defend our monopoly rights.»