he Norwegian government is expected to implement regulations in August 2009 that will require all financial institutions in the country to prohibit the processing of payments related to gambling via debit and credit cards, bank transfers and e-money, with only the state-owned monopolies Norsk Tipping and Rikstoto exempt from the legislation.
The planned measures will result in the financial blocking of transactions made with regulated operators legally established in any other European country, with the proposed legislation also preventing holders of Norwegian credit or debit cards from using these payment methods for gambling while travelling or residing abroad where such gambling activity is legal.
The ESA has informed Norway that the proposed legislation is not compatible with the rules of the internal market, and has warned the country's government that it may eventually launch an infringement proceeding and bring the matter before the EFTA court if the issue is not addressed adequately.
According to the Remote Gambling Association (RGA), Norway, as a state party to the European Economic Area (EEA), is bound to respect the rules of the internal market, including the free provision of services and the free movement of capital, Articles 36 and 41, or the EEA Agreement.
The RGA states that restrictions placed on those freedoms on public order grounds, such as the protection of consumers, must serve to limit gambling activities in a consistent and systematic manner. They are thus unjustified in cases where consumers are incited and encouraged to play.
The RGA has cited the example of state monopoly Norsk Tipping, which has expanded its activities over the past years to the financial benefit of the public purse and is amongst the top ten companies in Norway that spend most in direct marketing and sponsoring.
The RGA also says that the plans to block payments to online gaming operators are disproportionate when there are other ways of monitoring the accounts and activities of gambling operators which impinge to a lesser extent on the freedoms of the internal market. The plans also hinder the proper operation of the single market in payment services.
"It is difficult to believe that the aim of the proposed measures is to protect consumers and restrict gambling given the Norwegian monopoly’s appetite for recruiting new players and the extent of its marketing campaigns," said Clive Hawkswood, RGA Chief Executive.
"The Norwegian authorities appear to be more motivated by the need to protect revenues from gambling, but this is not a valid justification to restrict the internal market rules. Norwegian consumers should have a right to chose from responsible gambling operators licensed in the EEA States, which are at present subject to discriminatory measures.
"We hope that the implementation of the regulations is delayed and that the new Norwegian government in September (after the September 15th national elections) are prudent enough to revisit this issue as so many other European States have in creating access to markets,” he said.
The main task of the EFTA Surveillance Authority is to ensure that European Economic Area rules are properly enacted and applied by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).