Debate on Online Monopoly Heats Up in Sweden: "The Party Is Over"
Two months after the European Commission asked Sweden to change its online gambling policies, Svenska Spel Chairman Anitra Steen spoke about the risk of being taken to the European Court of Justice and attacked Swedish publishers organization "Tidningsutgivarna."
"EU law does not require the Swedish gaming market to be opened to new entrants," wrote the Swedish regulator chairman in a letter published by Sweden's leading financial newspaper, Dagens Industry.
"There is no doubt that EU treaties on free movements allow member states to maintain exclusive rights and monopoly in the gaming area, and that the parliament could continue to exclude private profit from this market," she added, accusing, "Who is saying the opposite to be spreading false information."
According to Steen, the pressure for an opening of the Swedish market would be coming from illegal gaming companies and from an organization of publishers (Tidningsutgivarna) desperate "to accept money from illegal gaming companies to compensate the fall of their advertising revenues."
"The party is over for those seeking revenues from illegal gambling companies," Steen continued. She then added, "The company should inform the European Commission about the driving forces behind the rampant marketing campaign." This is the marketing campaign that is now hitting the Swedish media against the monopoly.
When asked about the chance of Sweden being taken to the European Court of Justice for violations caused by its online gambling monopoly, Steen explained, "The European Court of Justice has in its judgments explicitly confirmed the compatibility of the Swedish regulation with EU law."
A few hours after the publishing of Svenska Spel positions, publishers organization Tidningsutgivarna reacted to Steen's words, denying her accusations and confirming the national monopoly to be against European Union regulation.
"The party is over," wrote on Dagens Industry Tidningsutgivarna CEO Per Hultengård. "The only question is, for whom?"
"It is true that the European Union exceptionally allows its member states to restrict freedom of movement and services in the field of gaming and betting," he said. "But the restrictions have to satisfy certain objectives in a consistent and systematic manner."
Criticizing Swedish online gambling policies for having failed in keeping private profits out of the market and for not having done enough in the field of policies against gambling additions, Mr. Hultengård rejected also the statement about the European Court of Justice having approved the Swedish monopoly.
"It is wrong to suggest that the European Court of Justice would have approved the Swedish system," Hultengård added. "The EU Court took is examining the issue and has never decided whether it meets the requirements set by EU law or not."
Asked for a comment on the issue, European Betting and Gaming Association (EBGA) Secretary General Maarten Haijer told PokerNews that "The EGBA advocates for fair and regulated national markets that are compliant with EU law, which is ultimately to the benefit of consumers."
"The incompliance of Sweden’s monopoly system with EU Law was confirmed by the European Commission in November,” Haijer explained. "Two reasoned opinions were issued. This is the last step in the infringement procedure before referral to the Court of Justice of the European Union."
"In the two documents, Sweden’s rules for the establishment of an exclusive right for the offering of gambling services were found contrary to EU law," said Haijer. "This assessment was based on numerous aspects of the behavior of the monopoly such as the fact that the restrictive policy is not applied in a consistent and systematic manner.
"Further, contrary to EU jurisprudence, the monopolist Svenska Spel is not subject to strict state control, but rather acts like a private operator in its advertising and sponsorship policy among others. Sweden now has until the end of January 2014 to reply to the European Commission before it is referred to the court."
What does the European Commission say?
In the meantime, Brussels seems to support the Tidningsutgivarna CEO's position and also some official documents from the European Commission threatening Sweden to be taken to the European Court for not having changed its online gambling laws as asked during the past years.
In an official document from November 20, 2013, the European Commission wrote:
"Today, the European Commission has called on a number of Member States to ensure compliance of their national regulatory frameworks for gambling services with the fundamental freedoms of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.
"Member States are in principle free to set the objectives of their policies on online gambling. They may restrict or limit the cross-border supply of all or certain types of gambling services on the basis of public interest objectives such as consumer protection or the prevention of fraud and other criminal activities. However, national gambling systems must respect EU law.
"The European Commission requested Sweden to comply with EU rules on the free movement of services with regard to the regulation and supervision of its gambling monopoly.
"The Commission found that the restrictive policy in the area of gambling services is not applied in a systematic and consistent manner and that the holder of the exclusive right is not subject to strict state control. The Commission enquiries cover the cross-border provision of online sports betting and poker services, but also deal with issues such as advertising and sponsorship. The Commission requests Sweden, in the form of an additional reasoned opinion on online betting and a reasoned opinion on online poker services, to take action to fully comply with EU rules.
"If Sweden fails to act within two months in relation to these two proceedings, the Commission may refer these cases to the EU Court of Justice."
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