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Online Gambling Rules May Be Overhauled as EU Probes Barriers

Online Gambling Rules May Be Overhauled, EU Probes Barriers
The Bwin online betting website, owned by Bwin Interactive Entertainment AG, is seen on a computer screen in London. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Online gambling companies including Bwin Interactive Entertainment AG and Unibet Group Plc will demand pan-European Union rules as regulators consider a possible overhaul of the EU’s patchwork of national gaming laws.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, plans to start an information-gathering exercise tomorrow on possible measures, according to a statement on its website.

“There is a big problem of market access today within the EU,” said Sigrid Ligne, secretary general of the European Gaming & Betting Association, whose members include Bwin, the online gaming company merging with PartyGaming Plc, and Unibet. There is a “need for an EU regulatory framework,” Ligne told reporters in Brussels today.

The EU’s top court in recent years has examined a series of cases brought by betting companies including Bwin, Ladbrokes Plc and Betfair Ltd. over whether it is legal for state monopolies to block them from operating freely across the 27-nation region. Online gambling firms have also called on the EU to take action against what they say are unjustified national restrictions on cross-border online gambling.

Since 2006, the Brussels-based commission has probed whether national rules in states such as Germany, France and Italy comply with EU laws. Most of these investigations are ongoing.

The EU agency said tomorrow’s consultation will “determine if the differing national regulatory models for gambling can continue to coexist, and whether specific action may be needed in the EU for that purpose.”

The commission plan is a sign that it has decided to “enter into a real political dialogue” rather than seek “legal confrontation,” said European Lotteries, a group representing state lotteries.

EU court rulings on cases in Italy and Portugal have said national gambling monopolies are legal if they meet policy goals like reducing fraud and gambling addiction. Still, in a ruling last year the court said Germany’s state monopoly on sports betting and lotteries is unlawful.

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