Europe court rules Austria gambling monopoly breaches EU law

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [judgment text] Thursday that Austria's state gambling monopoly, which blocks foreign casino companies from the licensing process, is incompatible with EU law. The court held that allowing only domestic operators to apply for licenses constituted such a difference in treatment that it constituted discrimination [Bloomberg report] on the basis of nationality. While Austria cited fighting crime as its reason for excluding operators hailing from other nations within the EU, the court stated that numerous less restrictive methods were available. This is the most recent in a series of cases in which the multi-billion euro industry is attempting to break the monopoly held by domestic "game of chance" agencies in many EU member states.

On Wednesday, the ECJ delivered three judgments striking down gambling restrictions in Germany [JURIST report] because the regulations were not designed to protect public interest. 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. 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. In July, the ECJ upheld a Swedish law [JURIST report] that prohibits the promotion of Internet gambling by private operators, and in June the ECJ issued two judgments [JURIST report] against UK betting companies, 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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