France and Greece get more time in gaming case against EU

France and Greece have been given two more months to respond to legal steps taken by the European Commission over alleged barriers to foreign gaming firms, the European Union executive said last week.

The Commission took France and Sweden to within one step of European Court of Justice action in June when it also gave Greece an initial warning that it too was at risk over its gaming laws. It gave all three countries two months to respond.

„The deadline for Greece and for France is now 29 October,“ said Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for the executive’s Internal Market Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, on Tuesday. „We have not seen anything from Sweden so far but they did not ask for an extension so we assume it’s on its way,“ he added.

The situation in France had changed since a court ruling last month was favourable to EU law, Drewes said. France’s top court overturned a ruling that banned a Maltese firm, Zeturf, from offering online horse race betting in France, adding to pressure from Brussels for France to end the state’s lucrative monopoly.

The French case will trigger a retrial which could take up to a year to come to court.
Separately, a complaint from La Francaise des Jeux led to the arrest last September of two executives from Austrian online gambling firm during a trip to France.
Drewes said there were good contacts with the Greek authorities.

Greek betting monopoly OPAP is a listed company and one of Europe’s biggest betting firms but competition is restricted – even though OPAP competes in neighbouring Cyprus.

Sports betting and gambling is a state-owned monopoly in many EU countries, generating large amounts of revenue for governments but thwarting attempts by private-sector rivals to get a piece of the multi-billion-euro business.

McCreevy has said there was no agreement among EU states to adopt pan-EU rules on gaming due to a wide range of views but he was ready to use his legal powers to stop unjustified restrictions on the free movement of services in the bloc.