This past Friday, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s highest court, issued an opinion finding that national legislation granting an exclusive right to operate gambling operations violated Articles 43 EC (Freedom of Establishment) and 49 EC (Freedom to Provide Services) of the European Community Treaty. 

In the Joined Cases - C-186/11, Stanleybet International Ltd., William Hill Organisation Ltd. and William Hill Plc v. Ipourgos Ikonomias kai Ikonomikon and Ipourgos Politismou; C-209/11, Sportingbet plc (SBT) v. Ipourgos Politismou and Ipourgos Ikonomias kai Ikonomikon – gaming service providers Stanleybet International, Ltd., William Hill Organisation Ltd. and Sportingbet plc (SBT) brought actions challenging Greek law after their applications to provide betting services in Greece were rejected.

The applications were initially rejected because Greek Law No. 2433/1996 provided a public limited company, Organismos prognistikon agonon podosfairou AE (“OPAP”), an exclusive right to provide betting services in Greece for 20 years.  OPAP, an intervenor in the matter before the Court of Justice, argued that the Greek national legislation was justified due to the need to reduce the supply of games of chance in a coherent, effective manner, and as a way to combat criminality linked to games of chance.

The Court did acknowledge that “restrictions on betting and gaming may be justified by overriding requirements in the public interest, such as consumer protection and the prevention of both fraud and incitement to squander money on gambling."  Paragraph 23.  The Court, however, found that in such cases, “national legislation is appropriate for ensuring attainment of the objective pursued only if [the legislation] genuinely reflects a concern to attain [the objective] in a consistent and systematic manner.”  Paragraph 27.

Here, the Court found that Articles 43 EC and 49 EC preclude legislation where: (1) the legislation does not genuinely reflect the concern of reducing opportunities for gambling, one of the goals of the legislation as argued by OPAP; and (2) the goal of combating criminality linked to games of chance could not be ensured by restricting the expansion of the games of chance beyond the current monopoly.  The Court further held that Greek authorities could not refrain from considering the applications to operate betting services during a transitional period for the Greek government to set forth legislation that complies with Articles 43 EC and 49 EC.  Paragraph 39.

A copy of the full opinion can be found here.