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EU court strikes down Germany gambling restrictions

The EU Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] on Wednesday delivered three judgments striking down gambling restrictions in Germany because the regulations were not designed to protect public interest [judgments]. The suit was filed by several foreign betting companies attempting to break into the German gambling market. The court held that while monopolies are sometimes justified, Germany's "intense advertising" in its gaming operations cause the regulations to fall outside the intended scope of consumer protection. Due to the broad scope of the regulations, the court determined that the German gambling laws were not compatible with EU law on service provisions and games of chance [Article 49-EC text, PDF]. Lobbying firms for the gambling industry called the decision a landmark due to the recent trend of the ECJ upholding gambling restrictions in other EU nations. The ECJ will rule on a similar case [Reuters report] challenging Austrian gambling restrictions on Thursday.

The judgments come at a time when the multi-billion euro industry is attempting to break the monopoly held by domestic "game of chance" agencies in many EU member states. In July, the ECJ upheld a Swedish law [JURIST report] that prohibits the promotion of Internet gambling by private operators in other EU member states for profit. The court concluded that Sweden's ban on Internet gambling was in line with EU laws, but that the nation's lottery laws were not allowed to penalize foreign gambling agencies differently from domestic agencies. In June, the ECJ issued two judgments [JURIST report] against UK betting companies Ladbrokes International and Betfair [judgments], upholding Dutch restrictions on Internet gambling. The ECJ ruled in both cases that national regulations on games of chance are compatible with EU law when they are enacted to mitigate addiction and combat fraud.

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