Ladbrokes’ Managing Director of Remote Betting and Gaming, John O’Reilly, is refusing to lie down over the deregulation of gambling in Holland and has rightly criticized what appears to be a pre-emptive strike by the European Advocate General Yves Bot.
Along with Betfair, Ladbrokes have been involved in a lengthy legal battle in the European Courts to overrule the injunction imposed by the Dutch courts to prevent them from accepting bets from Dutch citizens on its website since 2002.
In June 2008 a Dutch court turned to the European Court of Justice for guidance in the matter and with a decision yet to be reached Bot took it upon himself recently to suggest that preserving the monopoly of a single operator is in the interests of consumers and juveniles, who can thus best be protected from gambling addiction.
But O’Reilly is non-plussed by Bot’s comments which may influence the decision of the European Court to be made next year.”The opinion given by the Advocate General seems to assume the Dutch courts have already applied a full test of whether the introduction of new games and advertising by the Dutch monopoly constitutes an excessive enticement to gamble,” he said.
“However, the Dutch courts have applied no such test – a point we made clearly in the pleadings. We continue to believe that the ECJ should uphold principles of free and fair competition across borders as there is no logic in the fact that the Dutch monopoly could freely compete against us in the UK but we are prevented from accepting bets from any Dutch resident that finds us on the Internet.”
As usual it’s a case of one rule for one and one for another. Ladbrokes have also insisted that the views of the Advocate General did not correctly interpret EU law because they suggested that as long as a member state asserted that its legislation was intended to prevent any incitement to gamble or prevent fraud, it was not necessary to produce any evidence to support such assertions.
The legal rumblings will continue until a verdict is reached next year but let’s just hope that Ladbrokes’ and Betfair’s perseverence pays off, and that the Dutch – who are notoriously liberal in so many other ways (I still have fond, albeit hazy, memories of a lost week in Amsterdam) – see the light.
At least there is one part of Bot’s opinion that will be welcomed by the gambling operators; his acceptance that sports betting licenses should be allocated in a transparent manner. Bot said that “when granting to a private operator the exclusive right to operate a form of gambling under a licensing procedure or as part of the renewal of that license, the authorities must put out an adequate call for tenders.”
Betfair’s Managing Director Mark Davies that this statement could have a major impact on business. “We believe that this will have fundamental consequences for the licensing of operators throughout Europe,” said Davies. “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.”
It’s incredibly infuriating that there is such a conflict of opinions and rulings throughout Europe. While France and Holland are still digging their heels in, Italy, for example, has opened its doors to the likes of Ladbrokes.
As the Obama administration is beginning to realise, there are millions in taxes to be made from gambling – and once the Dutch government realises how much it is missing out on it will eventually change their tune.
In many ways, though, this Dutch farce can serve as a reminder that we should cherish our independence from Central Europe. If we left it up to the suits in Brussels to run our country online betting in the UK might have probably gone the way of the United States by now.