EU to decide on several gambling legal actions

Brussels (Reuters) – The European Commission will decide on Wednesday whether to take legal action against France, Sweden and Greece for restricting competition in their gambling markets, the European Union executive body said on Tuesday.

„There will be some decisions made probably tomorrow by the college (of commissioners) on a number of member states,“ Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for the European Union’s executive arm, told a regular briefing.

„This concerns France, Greece and Sweden for the moment. Those are the decisions on the calendar for tomorrow,“ Drewes said.

Sports betting and gambling is a state-owned monopoly in many EU states, generating large amounts of revenue for government coffers.

Reuters reported last week, and EU sources confirmed on Tuesday that the Commission would issue a final warning to France and Sweden and an initial warning to Greece for restricting competition in their gambling markets.

If no changes are made, the European Court of Justice has powers to force states to alter their laws.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy told Reuters that EU-wide rules specifically to open up gambling markets would not muster enough support among the bloc’s members, some of which have moral objections.

„I am not going down that road,“ he said in an interview.

It is unacceptable that some gambling operators have advertised for new customers while at the same time saying that gambling must not be encouraged as an excuse to bar competitors, he said.

Swedish Reform

For the Commission to say to governments „see you in court“ rather than try to negotiate is also unsatisfactory, he added.

„We would like a dialogue with all of the member states to reach a proportionate compromise, but some states have not entered into a dialogue with us at all,“ McCreevy said.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said on Tuesday the domestic sector would be reformed but it could take time.

Sweden has appointed a panel to look at gambling regulations, and Reinfeldt told reporters the government would also await the EU‘s viewpoint.

„So the last word has not been said,“ Reinfeldt said.

The Swedish panel could take a couple of years to reach a conclusion.

In Greece, the betting monopoly OPAP is a listed company and Europe’s biggest betting firm, but competition is restricted.

OPAP competes in Cyprus, but rivals such as Britain’s Stanley International or William Hill are not allowed to compete with OPAP on the Greek market.

Stanley welcomed the Commission’s moves to reinforce the EU‘s internal market, saying it wanted a regulated EU sports betting market that treated private and state-owned or controlled operators equally.

The French Institute of Horse Racing rejected the anticipated move by Brussels.

„It regrets that the particularities of the horse racing sector and its financing, founded on the principles of general interest, were not taken into account by the Commission and that a real negotiation was not organised on this subject,“ the institute said in a statement.

The Commission has opened legal actions against many EU states, saying a string of European Court of Justice rulings has given it the basis to crack down on competition curbs.