he Court stated that such a ban was not in contravention of Article 49, on the freedom to provide services, of the Treaty establishing the European Community. According to the judgement, the Member States are free to set the objectives of their policy on gambling and to take restrictive measures against operators established in another EU Member State if they are justified by the protection of public order, public security and public health.
The Court confirmed that the betting and lottery legislation including Internet games had not been harmonised at the EU level, and the fact that operators such as bwin are established, licensed and registered in another Member State could not be regarded “as amounting to a sufficient assurance that national consumers will be protected against the risks of fraud and crime”.
European Lotteries (EL), an association of which Saska, is also a member, welcomed the judgement. “The ruling by the highest European Court explicitly states,” Friedrich Stickler, EL President, notes “that governments can prohibit commercial online gambling operators such as bwin from offering games of chance via the internet to their citizens, even when these operators are based and licensed in another EU Member State.”
“This is a significant milestone and a reference ruling in the interpretation of Community law,” said Aleš Hušák, Chairman of the Board of Directors and General Manager, Sazka. “The judgement disproves the statements from operators based in countries such as Malta and Gibraltar that they are entitled to operate without restrictions in all EU countries. Member States have thus been provided with a legal framework to take appropriate steps against illegal foreign operators, and this is also important for the protection against compulsive gambling and irresponsible gaming.”
The case had been brought to the European Court of Justice by the Criminal Court of Porto, where Bwin International Ltd. and Liga Portuguesa de Futebol Profissional challenged the Portuguese legislation, which, in their opinion, was in contravention of the principles of freedom to provide services, freedom of establishment and the free movement of payments.
In this context, the Court has determined whether Member States may introduce the exclusive right system for bets and lotteries operated via the Internet and prohibit the activities of operators registered in other EU countries.