The European Commission recently issued a statement that it was taking legal action against several European Union member states that do not fully comply with European Union law. In the monthly release of decisions concerning infringements, the Commission has referred 11 states to the European Court of Justice. These referrals cover many areas including online gambling. The Commission has referred a member state to the European Court of Justice for the first time for non-compliance in the online gambling sector. The Commission considers that Sweden’s internet gambling laws contravene European Union legislation. The European Commission lists its role in this sector as concentrating on: “Compliance of national regulatory frameworks with EU law; enhancing administrative cooperation and efficient enforcement; protecting consumers and citizens, minors and vulnerable groups; preventing fraud and money laundering; safeguarding the integrity of sports and preventing match-fixing.”
European Commission’s concerns since 2006
Gambling in Sweden is effectively controlled by the state monopoly, Svenska Spel since 1997. It is claimed that the Swedish laws permitting such a monopoly over online gambling contravene European Union legislation permitting the free movement of services between European Union member states. The European Gaming and Betting Association is one group that threatened earlier this year to take Sweden to the European Court of Justice if it didn’t amend its current laws to allow online operators to apply for gaming licenses to offer their services to internet gamblers in the country. Sweden is one of the remaining few European Union states not to have introduced legislation to open up its online gambling market. There has been some quite slow movement by the European Commission to encourage Sweden to de-regulate its online gambling market starting with a formal request for information on Sweden’s gambling legislation in 2006. This was followed by a formal request to open up its gambling sector to competition but this was refused in 2008 when the Swedish authorities did nothing to alter the internet gambling industry.
Claims of protectionism in Sweden
European Union laws allow for freedom of services between member states. Despite many warnings that Sweden needed to update its gambling laws and many promises from the Swedish gaming regulator, the Lotterinspektionen, nothing has so far been done to liberalise the Swedish online gambling industry. There is provision under European Union law to allow states to limit their citizen’s gambling if it can be shown that this will lessen the possible social problems caused by excessive gambling. However, it has been claimed that the Svenska Spel monopoly over gambling does not fulfil this criteria since increases in its marketing budget in recent years seem to be aimed more at bring in more revenue to the state monopoly rather than protecting the vulnerable. The Swedish government has reacted to the European commission’s referral to the European Court of Justice by saying that it has plans to move more quickly to introduce a new license system for online gambling.