BETFAIR, the largest online sports betting operator in Europe, today welcomed the Advocate General's opinion in its case against the Dutch government in the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ).
In his opinion, Advocate General Bot accepted Betfair's argument that sports betting licences should be allocated or renewed in a transparent and equal manner. In doing so, he rejected the arguments made before the ECJ by both the Dutch government and the Dutch monopoly operator, De Lotto.
The Advocate General restated his previous view that the principle of mutual recognition does not apply to gambling. However he did not address a fundamental issue in this case namely that Betfair's website in no way targets the Netherlands. Betfair did not argue in favour of mutual recognition but instead argued that Dutch consumers should have the right to access Betfair's English language website. Betfair hopes that the ECJ will consider this issue more fully in its ruling next year.
Mark Davies, Betfair Managing Director said:
"Betfair welcomes the opinion of the Advocate General which clarifies the obligation of transparency in allocating licences for gambling operators. We believe this will have fundamental consequences for the licensing of operators throughout Europe. We hope that the Court will confirm this in its ruling next year and also address the issue of the right of Dutch consumers to access our website in the Netherlands."
The Advocate General's opinion is not legally binding on the court, and the final ruling on this case is not expected until the middle of 2010. The ruling must then be passed back to the Council of State in The Hague for a final decision on the matter.
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About Betfair: (www.betfair.com)
Betfair is the world's biggest online betting community and pioneered the first successful betting exchange in 2000. Driven by cutting-edge technology, Betfair enables customers to choose their own odds and bet even after the event has started. The company now processes over six million transactions a day from its two million registered customers around the world. In addition to sports betting, Betfair offers a portfolio of innovative products including casino, exchange games and poker.
Betfair has twice been named the UK's „Company of the Year' by the Confederation of British Industry and remains one of the only betting companies to win a Queen's Award for Enterprise, being recognised for Innovation in 2003 and most recently for International Trade in 2008.
Betfair currently employs over 1,500 people, principally in London, Malta and Tasmania. The company is a licensed betting operator in the UK, and holds licenses in Australia, Germany, Austria, Italy and Malta.
What is the case about?
Last year, the Dutch Council of State referred a case started by Betfair against the Dutch Government in 2004 to the European Court of Justice (ECJ)1. Betfair argued before the ECJ on 12 November 2009 that under EC law2 Dutch consumers should be able to access Betfair's website which is only available in English and in no way targets the Netherlands.
Betfair also questioned the legality of the Dutch licensing system having been twice denied the opportunity to apply for a sports betting and horseracing licence. Betfair argued that the principles of equal treatment and transparency should apply to the allocation of such licences.
Why is the case before the ECJ?
As this case involves fundamental questions concerning the operation of the "single market", the Council of State (the Netherlands' highest administrative court) has asked the ECJ for guidance in applying the fundamental principles of EC law. As the highest court in Europe, the ECJ's role is to ensure that EC law is interpreted and applied correctly by national courts. In addition to the questions which concern Betfair's Dutch licence applications, the Dutch court has asked the ECJ to consider whether the Dutch State is precluded under EC law from prohibiting Betfair to allow Dutch consumers to place bets on its website that is licensed in the EU.
What issues is the ECJ considering?
In Betfair's case three specific issues are at stake:
- Whether the Dutch State, which has a closed licensing system for sports betting, is entitled under EC law to prohibit an operator such as Betfair, which is licensed in another Member State, from accepting bets from Dutch customers on its website;
- Whether the Dutch State can offer exclusive licences in the field of betting and gaming in the way that it has, bearing in mind the ECJ case law on the freedom to provide services and the EC law principles of equal treatment and transparency in relation to the allocation of licences;
- Whether the Dutch State, which presently automatically renews these exclusive licences,is adopting a suitable and proportionate means to safeguard the objectives of the Dutch betting and Gaming policy.
What is Betfair’s present position in the Netherlands?
Betfair's website is only available in English and it does not carry out any marketing, advertising or promotional activity to consumers in the Netherlands, as such Betfair's website is only available to Dutch consumers who actively seek to access it. The position of the Dutch Government to the effect that Dutch residents cannot participate in games that are offered on Betfair's site, is basically tantamount to obliging the hanging of a sign on the door of a UK licensed operator saying „No Dutch Allowed'.
What is the Role of the Advocate General’s Opinion in Court proceedings?
The Advocate General's opinion is not binding on the ECJ. The final ruling is not expected until the middle of 2010.
Online gambling companies have launched an Internet-based campaign, Right2Bet (www.right2bet.net), with a petition to build support for EU citizens to have the right to use any EU licensed online betting provider regardless of which Member State they reside in - championing the interest of punters against the monopolies.
For further information on any of the above please contact Tim Phillips, Betfair's Director of European Public Affairs, +44 20 8834 8479 email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Case C-203/08 Sporting Exchange Ltd. v. Dutch Minister of Justice (click SUBMIT to read)
2 Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Community (freedom to provide services throughout the EU – from now on to be known as Article 56 of the renamed Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union following Lisbon)
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