European Commission Asked To Bust Austrian Monopoly

January 27, 2022
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An Austrian trade group representing international operators is asking the European Commission to tear down the country’s gambling regime.

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An Austrian trade group representing international operators is asking the European Commission to tear down the country’s gambling regime.

The Austrian Association for Betting and Gambling (OVWG), a body with members including bet365, Flutter and Bet-at-home, has sent a detailed request to the European Commission asking it to investigate Austria’s gambling laws.

It argues that the presence of a monopoly for online casino games and lotteries violates European Union free trade rules. Currently, only Austrian Lotteries and Casinos Austria are permitted to jointly offer these kinds of products.

The OVWG alleges that the Austrian courts have “failed to carry out an independent examination of Union law” or to protect the rights of companies registered in other EU jurisdictions.

In a statement released on Wednesday (January 26), the group said it had filed a complaint with the European Commission on January 10.

In 2017, the commission announced it would no longer take an active role in policing the gambling regimes of EU member states, having previously intervened in countries such as Sweden to force reform.

Instead, it said that national courts had the standing to rule on issues such as whether monopolies for certain sectors meet the bloc’s free trade rules.

The leadership of the commission has since changed, but under Ursula von der Leyen the authority has shown no signs of changing its approach. Last year, the commission refused to reinstate the Expert Group on Online Gambling, despite appeals from 14 separate regulators across the continent.

The OWVG complaint acknowledges the commission’s 2017 decision, but argues the Austrian courts have not been offering the kind of “legal protection” to offshore online casino operators it should do and says the EU needs to step in to ensure the law is being applied correctly.

In particular, the trade group cites numerous complaints from individual players seeking to claim back online casino losses on the grounds that the operators are unlicensed.

A number of the more than 1,500 claimants have been successful in their requests for repayment.

"It is incomprehensible that companies who adhere to strict player protection rules and pay millions in taxes every year are not supposed to have any legal certainty,” said Thomas Forstner, OVWG general secretary.

“This approach does not serve to protect players, but only to cement the gaming monopoly,” he said.

Casinos Austria said the complaint was no more than a “PR measure”.

“We do not assume that the European Commission will follow the well-known arguments of the gaming providers operating in Austria without a licence,” a spokesperson from the online casino monopoly-holder told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

If the EU forced Austria to overturn its current gambling rules, “the commission would go against the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and also against its own view, according to which complaints about gaming are better clarified by national courts”, they said.

The Ministry of Finance, which oversees gambling regulation in Austria, did not return a request for comment in time for publication.

Addition reporting by David Altaner.

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