ECJ fails to take the initiative yet again

8 June 2010

Last week the ECJ ruling in the case brought against betting operators Ladbrokes and Betfair by the Dutch government stated that Member States were entitled to block private operators on the grounds of protecting the public from crime and addiction.

They've done this despite there being absolutely no evidence that proves that an open, regulated online gambling market contributes to higher rates of addiction and crime than a closed shop.

In fact, several independent reports have actually found that without the consumer-need to find black-market alternatives and with increased competition with regards to customer service and security, a liberalised online gambling market can actually help combat addiction and related criminal activities.

For example, in the UK, which has arguably the most liberal approach to its online gambling market, the addiction rate is lower than in some Member States where a monopoly exists.

Consumer protection is of paramount importance and we wish in no way shape or form to play down that argument. What we abhor and what we are fighting so hard against is this constant misuse of the argument in order to protect monopolies from the licensed competition.

We do this because at the end of the day, it is the consumers that are losing out. Why are Dutch consumers being forced to either use their state offering – which offers less value and is of poorer quality – or look for black market offerings instead? Why do they not have the option of several licensed operators to choose from, all of whom would be committed to the strictest codes of customer security?

The ECJ and Member States like the Netherlands will tell you that it is in order to protect them. However as we've stated above, this simply does not ring true.

Last week's opinion of the ECJ undoubtedly hurt the prospects of those European consumers looking for a fair deal. Yet it wasn't all doom and gloom.

One positive to come out of the ruling was that the court stated that all operators must be given a fair chance to apply for a betting license. At the moment this is not the case in the Netherlands, with companies such as Betfair and Ladbrokes not even given the option of sending in an application to the gaming authorities.

Betfair responded by saying they will apply for a Dutch license as soon as they can, unfortunately though, the ECJ appears to have given the Dutch authorities the unjustified right to just say "no".

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