Germany set to prohibit online gambling

Online gambling will be banned in Germany starting January 1 as part of an accord with states that preserves the country’s state monopoly for lotteries and most forms of betting.

All 16 German state legislatures voted by mid-December to approve the new online-betting laws, which the states negotiated after the Federal Constitutional Court overturned earlier rules.

The new rules ban any form of Web-based gambling or brokering of games over the Internet. The states may order Internet service providers to block Web sites of illegal betting operations and banks to stop money transfers to them.

The rules’ definition of illegal gaming includes placing a bet from German territory over the Web with a company based outside Germany. Not surprisingly, the new regulations have drawn criticism from Internet betting companies and lottery brokers like Bwin Interactive Entertainment, Fluxx and Tipp24.

Tipp24 said last week that it regarded the regulations „as clearly contrary to law and will sue for its rights if necessary.“

Bwin sued four German states in October seeking to continue offering online bets after the rules come into effect. The cases are pending. It operates a site under a license originally issued by the communist East German government before unification and another portal under a Gibraltar license.

The company claims that both permits prevail over the new online-betting ban and will continue to operate its sites. „We think that in the second half of 2008 the European Court of Justice will have stopped this futile effort to keep us out of Germany,“ Hartmut Schultz, a spokesman for Bwin, said in an interview this month.

The European Commission, the European Union’s regulator, called on Germany to reconsider the total ban on online betting, saying the step was disproportional. In April, Germany rejected that demand, arguing the rules were needed to protect citizens from the dangers of gambling.

„I am pretty sure the commission will escalate the process and send a formal warning the day after“ the new law takes effect, Wolfgang Kubicki, leader of the Free Democrats, or FDP, opposition party in the Schleswig-Holstein Parliament, said last week. „Berlin will have something in the mail on January 3.“

The commission can sue EU member states to force them to comply with EU law.
At least 13 of Germany’s 16 states had submitted the ratification documents for the ban to take effect by Thursday, said Eric Braum, a spokesman for the Hesse government, which monitors the process. „That’s the required majority and we expect to have all the rest coming in by New Year’s Eve,“ he said.

The new regulations will also outlaw advertising of gambling over the Internet and on television, stating that advertising in print and other media could no longer „directly invite, incite or prompt“ customers to play; it may only „inform“ about the possibility to do so.