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CJEU questions consistency of French gambling law

Date

30 Jun 2011

Sections

Sports

The European Court today ruled once again that a monopoly can only be justified if findings prove that gambling related problems actually exist and a particularly high level of consumer protection is granted. This ruling, which concerns the former law, also adds pressure on the current French gambling legislation that was introduced in May 2010.

The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) welcomes today’s ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) stating once again that an EU Member State is not permitted to close its gambling market on public policy grounds while, at the same time, allowing its own monopoly operator to employ aggressive marketing encouraging consumers to play substantially more without evidencing that such marketing can effectively solve gambling related problems (Zeturf case C-212/08, para 70). 

Since the French legislator has not considered it necessary to make a distinction between land-based and online distribution channels at the time of the referral, the national courts must assess the consistent and systematic approach of the French legislation as regards the entire horserace betting sector both online and offline.

In particular the CJEU insists that the French jurisdiction verifies whether:

  • “the national authorities genuinely sought, at the material time, to ensure such a particularly high level of protection and whether, having regard to the level of protection sought, the establishment of a monopoly could actually be considered necessary” (para.47),
  • “the State controls to which the activities of the body benefiting from the exclusive rights are, in principle, subject are actually implemented in the consistent and systematic pursuit of the objectives assigned to that body” (para.72);
  • The monopoly is “based on a finding that criminal and fraudulent activities linked to gaming and gambling addiction are a problem in the territory of the Member State concerned, which the expansion of authorised and regulated activities would be capable of solving “(para.72);
  • “only advertising that is measured and strictly limited to what is necessary in order to channel consumers towards controlled gaming networks” (para.71) is allowed, already having established that “the PMU makes use of sustained and growing advertising for its products, including on the internet, and is increasing the number of outlets for betting and for the products offered to bettors. It uses, moreover, a commercial strategy that seeks to draw in new audiences for the betting offered” (para.65). (1)
Sigrid Ligné, Secretary General of the EGBA said: ´Today´s ruling confirms that Member States have to choose between either a monopoly with policies which are genuinely designed to reduce gambling opportunities or a well regulated market where also EU operators can provide their services. It is a clear question of consistency.´

The Zeturf case concerns French legislation which has changed since the case was referred by the French Conseil d’Etat – the highest administrative Court – to the CJEU and thus no longer applies, but civil and criminal proceedings are nevertheless still being pursued against the Zeturf Limited, an EU licensed and regulated company providing online gambling services. Now that the CJEU has given clear indications that the former law is not in compliance with EU law, these proceedings are likely to be dropped after an assessment by the national court.

Several complaints against the new French law of May 2010, partially regulating the online gambling market, are still pending both in France and at the European Commission. Separately, the Commission has already opened a State aid investigation against the French parafiscal levy on online horse-race betting, the decision on which is expected in the second half of 2011 (State aid case C 34/10).   

 Footnote:
(1) Underscore added

ENDS

For further information or comment please contact:
Sigrid Ligné: +32 2 554 08 99
Sigrid.Ligne@egba.eu

About EGBA

The European Gaming and Betting Association is an association of leading European gaming and betting operators Bet-at-home.com, BetClic, bwin.party, Digibet, Expekt, Interwetten and Unibet. EGBA is a Brussels-based non-profit association. It promotes the right of private gaming and betting operators that are regulated and licensed in one Member State to a fair market access throughout the European Union. Online gaming and betting is a fast growing market, but will remain for the next decades a limited part of the overall European gaming market in which the traditional land based offer is expected to grow from € 79.6 Billion GGR in 2009 to € 83.7 Billion GGR in 2012, thus keeping the lion’s share with 87% of the market. Source: H2 Gambling Capital, April 2010.

www.egba.eu 

Note to the editors:

The preliminary ruling system (under Article 267 TFEU, ex-Article 234 of the EC Treaty) enables national courts to ensure uniform application of EU law in all the Member States. The ECJ has jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings on the interpretation of EU law in relation to specific legal questions raised by the national courts. In such rulings the Court makes every effort to give a reply which will be of assistance in resolving the dispute, but it is for the referring court to draw the appropriate conclusions from that reply in a final decision.

Infringement procedures brought by the European Commission (under Article 258 TFEU, ex-Article 226 of the EC Treaty) allow the ECJ to give a judgment with regard to the compliance of national legislations with EC law. Under such procedure the ECJ does not just give its interpretation of E law on specific selective questions but is able to have a broader analysis assessing as well the factual situation at stake. Seven Member States (Denmark, Finland, France, Sweden, Hungary, the Netherlands and Greece) are currently subject to an infringement procedure in relation to their gambling legislation and have already received a reasoned opinion, the last procedural step before the start of an infringement case at the ECJ.)

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