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European Lotteries urges EU to uphold states’ power to set igaming rules

| By Daniel O'Boyle
The European Lotteries Association (EL) has urged members of an EU committee to remove suggestions that member states may not interfere with the freedom to provide online gambling services from the EU Digital Services Act currently under consideration.

Though the initial 2020 version of the Act did not mention online gambling specifically, a new compromise text on the bill mentioned gambling in one of the recitals at the beginning of the text.

“The applicable national laws should be in compliance with Union law, in particular including the charter and the treaty provisions on the freedom of establishment and to provide services within the Union in particular with regard to online gambling and betting services,” it said.

This wording would suggest that EU member states may not issue national laws that could stop international operators based in EU states such as Malta from accepting European customers. Last month, the Netherlands announced that it would crack down on all unlicensed operators accepting Dutch customers, rather than those specifically targeting the Netherlands – prompting operators such as Entain, Kindred, 888  Betsson, LeoVegas and Casumo to block customers from the Netherlands.

In Sweden, meanwhile, a recent report from the Ministry of Finance has recommended a similar approach, arguing that it would streamline enforcement of gambling laws.

In response to the EU proposal, The European Lotteries Association – in a letter from director general Arjan van ’t Veer – has urged members of the EU’s Working Party on Competitiveness and Growth to remove any specific mentions of online gambling, arguing that its inclusion is “misplaced”.

While EL acknowledged that “in principle” certain freedoms to provide services apply to the online gambling sector, it said that European courts have “consistently recognized” that “gambling is also an activity of a peculiar nature given the considerable moral, religious

and cultural differences across the EU Member States, as well as the risks they entail in terms of potential addiction and criminal use”.

“Due to its peculiar nature, the Court has ruled very clearly that free, undistorted competition in the gambling sector can have severely detrimental effects,” van ’t Veer added.

This means, EL argued, that individual states have the right to implement their own restrictions on gambling, based on the public interest.

“The specific reference to ‘in particular with regard to online gambling and betting services; falsely implies that national regulations on illegal content in the gambling sector are often not in

compliance with the EU law,” van ’t Veer continued. “Whereas there are definitely restrictions on the freedom to provide online gambling services in most Member States, these national laws aim to combat crime and fraud and to protect consumers.”

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