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Placanica Fallout – Will Dutch Gambling Monopolies Hold?

October 5, 2008 2008

Placanica decision has placed Europe’s state gambling monopolies under added scrutiny. Despite increased confidence amongst private operators, however, observers remain unsure as to whether Holland will now open up its restricted market.

It seems as though Placanica decision has been met with roars of approval from all sides. On the one hand, state operators such as Deutscher Lotto- und Toto-block have stated that the ECJ’s decision reinforces the validity of state gambling monopolies. On the other, leading online bookmakers proclaim that the ruling proves that state gambling monopolies are an anachronism that contravenes European law. Evidently the Placanica judgement is open to interpretation.

“Since the judgement there has been a lot of empty rhetoric from both monopolies and the private sector,” notes leading Amsterdam-based gambling lawyer Justin Franssen of the firm Van Mens & Wisselink. “In this respect Placanica is very much comparable to Gambelli.” Franssen does not share the optimism of those operators such as bwin, Ladbrokes and Unibet who were quick to proclaim the death of state monopolies in Placanica’s wake: “It is very clear that the ECJ grants member states considerable discretion to limit gambling operators within their countries,” he says.

Does this mean, then, that the Dutch monopoly is likely to go unchallenged? “What was interesting about the Placanica judgement was the references it made to the tendering and licensing processes,” Franssen states. “The Dutch situation regarding the licensing of sports betting clearly has to be re-thought.”

At present the licence to develop sports betting in Holland is awarded on a renewable five year basis but, in reality, as Franssen attests, it is “semi-permanent” and international operators such as Ladbrokes (forced to cease all its Dutch operations by a court decision in 2003) and Betfair have been prohibited from even bidding for that licence.

Operators should not necessarily expect a wide-scale liberalisation, however, or even a partial opening such as that set to take place in neighbouring Belgium later this year. “Placanica may not have that great an effect,” says Franssen. “The sports betting system [limited to one exclusive licensee] is backed up strongly by the civil courts in Holland which have consistently ruled the system to be compliant with Articles 67 and 69 of the 2003 Gambelli judgement.”

Even if Holland does not open up its sports betting market to allow multiple licensees, the Placanica ruling means that the tendering process must be made more open and transparent as excluding EU-licensed companies from entering the bidding process contravenes European law.

However, Holland Casinos’ monopoly of the Dutch casino market is coming under increasing pressure. A decision is due later this week in the Dutch Council of State in a case brought against Holland Casinos’ monopoly on behalf of the French casino group Tranchant. And a ruling against Holland Casinos could be just the start of several challenges brought to the group.

Private operators will no doubt be emboldened by the Placanica decision to scrutinise the legitimacy of last year’s awarding of an exclusive licence to Holland Casinos to develop online casino gaming for the Dutch market.

Another European gaming expert, Jan Gerard Rodrigo – who worked for Holland Casinos for 17 years prior to 2002, is more confident than Franssen that the Dutch monopolies are unsustainable. “Eventually there will be a liberalisation,” he says. “The Dutch monopoly is like a house of cards that is going to fall – it’s just a question of when.”

Interestingly, according to Rodigo, a liberalised Dutch gambling market may not be such an unpalatable reality for Holland Casinos. If restrictions were lifted then Holland Casinos would also be freed from the shackles of its own monopoly and would be free to expand throughout Europe – in the manner of Casinos Austria, for example.

“Holland Casinos does not see the point in monopolies,” notes Rodigo. “Its knowledge of the casino gambling market is like a bottle of squash – it’s so concentrated. You could take that knowledge and operate fifty casinos.”

© Gambling Compliance Ltd 2006

The author of this article is James Kilsby. This article was published on 14/03/2007 on GamblingCompliance.com (http://www.gamblingcompliance.com)

Source URL: http://www.gamblingcompliance.com/node/7345


[1] http://www.gamblingcompliance.com/

[2] http://www.gamblingcompliance.com/author/30


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