Although this was a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) back in July 2012, the impact of the judgment is likely to be felt in 2013 and beyond.
This case stemmed from the laws in Austria on the advertising of gambling. Austrian laws provide that foreign gambling operators may not advertise in Austria unless they have prior permission to do so from the Bundesminister fϋr Finanzen (the Austrian Federal Minister for Finance). Permission will only be granted where the operator can show that the legal protection for gamblers provided in their home territory "at least corresponds to" that in Austria.
HIT and HIT LARIX operated casinos in Slovenia. They applied for permission to advertise in Austria but this was refused on the ground that they had failed to show that legal protection for gamblers in Slovenia at least corresponded to that in Austria. HIT and HIT LARIX brought proceedings in Austria challenging this decision. The Austrian court asked the CJEU to rule on the wider question of whether Austrian law was compatible with the freedom to provide services guaranteed by EU law.
The CJEU held that it was. In essence, it ruled that each Member State will have specific moral, religious and cultural views on gambling and so each was free to regulate gambling (including gambling advertising) as it chose, and this would not impact on the freedom to provide services. This was provided that the regulations were proportionate to providing the protections that a particular member state wanted to have in place and that the regulations did not place an excessive burden on operators outside that territory.
This ruling has implications for gambling operators. In effect, the CJEU was sanctioning member state by member state regulation of gambling, so inherently blessing a national model of regulation, like that currently seen in France and Italy, broadly justified on the grounds on 'public interest'. Such a model is only likely to increase the regulatory and administrative burdens faced by operators. See, however, information about the European Commission's Action Plan (below).