29th January 2010 – In the case of Winner Wetten v. Mayor of Bergheim earlier this month, the European Union’s Court of Justice (ECJ) stipulated that any national gaming laws needed to be consistent with EU law and denied Germany an exception to preexisting EU regulations that allow for free trade and fair competition.
The case involved German company Winner Wetten, which places sports bets on behalf of the Maltese company Tipico. While Tipico retains a Maltese gambling license, Winner Wetten was ordered by the mayor of its hometown of Bergheim to cease betting operations because it lacked its own gaming license issued by the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the 16 states within Germany. Winner Wetten then took the matter to court, claiming, among other things, that it violated EU treaty law promising companies the freedom to establish a business and provide services.
The case was referred to the EJC who ruled in favor of Winner Wetten, stating that the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia’s existing laws regarding sports betting were in violation of EU law.
The German government also argues that the country should be granted an exception to EU treaty laws because the matter pertained to online gaming versus some other type of business. In the ECJ’s eyes however, EU law does not allow for such exceptions and it would not be in the best interest of European consumers to make exceptions that do not allow for consistent rules and regulations, even in the online gaming sector. Ultimately, the ECJ ruled that state laws must be consistent with existing EU treaty laws without exception.
The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) was quick to comment on the landmark ruling. In a statement posted on its official website, EGBA Secretary General Sigrid Ligné offered the following insight on the case: “This opinion is crucial for developments in Germany. The AG has made clear that EU law prevails and that unjustified restrictions are not admissible even for a transitional period. Today’s opinion will further fuel the current political debate on online gaming in Germany.” Ligné went on to add that the EGBA agrees with Bot’s ruling and hopes it will lead to more consistent and systematic regulation of online gambling across the Union.