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Stanleybet Says EU Ruling Shows Italy Erred Trying to Block It

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Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Stanleybet International Ltd., a British sports-betting company, said a European Union court ruling showed that the Italian government was wrong to seek to block its business in the country.

The European Court of Justice, the region’s highest court, said Italy’s system of awarding and withdrawing licenses to sports-betting companies may be illegal, according to a ruling today. An Italian rule setting minimum distances between gambling outlets may not be justified if it prevents new operators from starting up, the court said.

Today’s ruling “confirms once again that Stanleybet was discriminated against by the Italian Republic,” said David Purvis, chief executive officer for Liverpool, England-based Stanleybet. It “must surely put an end to the unlawful distortions, the discrimination and the unjust limitations of the Italian licensing system.”

The EU’s top court in recent years has examined a series of cases brought by betting companies including Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Plc, 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.

Italy was wrong to sanction two Stanleybet employees after the company was blocked from bidding for a gambling license, the EU court said. It also criticized Italy’s procedure for awarding and withdrawing licenses as being unclear.

Final decisions on the legality of Italy’s gambling system should be made by the Italian courts, the Luxembourg-based tribunal said.

Italy introduced rules encouraging more foreign competition in 2006. Licenses have been issued to companies including Ladbrokes, the world’s biggest publicly traded betting firm, and London-based bookmaker William Hill Plc. Stanleybet didn’t obtain one of these licenses.

Gambling is Italy’s third-biggest industry, worth 76.1 billion euros a year, according to a study by anti-mafia association Libera last month.

The cases are C-72/10 Marcello Costa and C-77/10 Ugo Cifone.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aoife White in Brussels at awhite62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Scinta at cscinta@bloomberg.net

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