Dutch can ban British on-line betting sites: EU court

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Europe's highest court Thursday upheld Dutch laws that restrict gambling on the Internet, dealing a legal blow to British betting companies Ladbrokes and Betfair among others which are banned there.

The Netherlands has a licensing system that allows it to restrict access to the gambling market.

However the two online bookmakers challenged the bans arguing, in separate cases, that they were properly licensed in Britain, a fellow EU nation, and that European law upholds the right of companies to carry out business in other European Union countries.

"A member state can prohibit the operation of games of chance on the Internet," the European Court of Justice said in its judgement Thursday.

Therefore "prohibition may, on account of the specific features associated with the provision of games of chance on the Internet, be regarded as justified by the objective of combating fraud and crime."

However such restrictions must be "justified" the court ruled, "in particular by the objectives of consumer protection and the prevention of both fraud and incitement to squander money on gambling, as well as the need to preserve public order."

The Dutch court system had had concerns over whether national legislation was consistent with these rules as the national De Lotto organisation is allowed to offer new games and use advertising "to make what they are offering on the market attractive".

However the European Court in Luxembourg said that "a policy of controlled expansion in the betting and gaming sector may be entirely consistent with the objective of drawing players away from clandestine betting and gaming -- and as such activities which are prohibited -- to activities which are authorised and regulated."

The European court said it was up to its Dutch counterparts to ensure that those allowed a monopoly on gambling uphold the stated aims behind the restrictions and that gambling licenses are awarded fairly and transparently.

The Netherlands Supreme Court and the Netherlands Council of State had referred the cases to the EU court, seeking guidance on whether Dutch gambling rules were in keeping with the aim of consumer protection.

© 2010 AFP

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