EU Court Comes Down on Austria

Two internet gambling cases have resulted in a ruling in the European Court of Justice that Austria’s gaming laws may be more protectionist than protective and run afoul of EU free-trade guarantees. While important in principle, it’s not certain if the decision will result in any actual change.

Two internet gambling cases in Austria have resulted in a ruling from the European Court of Justice declaring the country’s gambling laws to be inconsistent with EU free-trade guarantees.

The first case was brought by a the man charged by Austrian police with running illegal web-based games at a pub. An Austrian court ruled the unlicensed Czech-based operation violated Austrian law. The defendant appealed to the ECJ. The second case concerned a gambler who lost €950,000 playing roulette on two gaming websites that were not licensed in Austria.

The court found that Austrian gambling laws restricts competition and is applied inconsistently through licensing requirements that are more geared to collecting taxes than protecting players.

This ruling is in line with a November 2013 opinion issued by EU Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston holding that operators with Austrian licenses were practicing an “expansionist commercial policy” that was “plainly inconsistent with an aim of achieving a high level of protection for customers”.

The decision may be difficult to enforce, however. There have been similar rulings pertaining to protectionist gambling laws in other EU Member States, but most have yet to revisit or revise their laws to comply.