The European Commission commenced infringement proceedings against Germany and Sweden concerning their national legislation which bars a free movement of gambling services. The commission has sent a “letter of formal notice” to the parties concerned and they will have two months to respond or face the European Court of Justice.

For Germany, the concern arises over the Interstate Treaty on gambling which came into effect January of this year. The Interstate treaty essentially bans private operators from providing games of chance via the internet and from advertising such services as well. Financial institutions have also been barred from processing any financial transactions that are related to “illegal” online gambling. They have prohibited sports betting, advertising restrictions on TV, jerseys and even billboards.

"However, it should be noted that in Germany horse race betting on the Internet is not prohibited and slot machines have been widely expanded. Moreover, advertising of games of chance by mail, in the press and on radio is still permitted," the Commission said.

"Germany has two months in which to respond. The Commission hopes that the answers it receives will lead to an early and satisfactory resolution of the matter," the Commission said in a statement.

EU internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has asked Germany for specific information in order to assess whether the Interstate Treaty is in line with the EU’s rules on the free movement of services. Sweden, on the other hand, is being scrutinized for similar reasons.

Sweden has been asked to show that the prohibitive measures against poker games and tournaments which they have instated are compatible with EU law. Sweden’s state-owned gambling company, Svenska Spel, offers and promotes online poker to its citizens while the same business is prohibited to foreign operators.

“The national legislation prevents online poker games and tournaments offered by operators licensed and regulated in other member states,” the commission said. “Also, it provides for restrictions and criminal sanctions on the promotion both of online poker offered by a licensed service provider in another member state, and of poker organized within licensed premises in another member state.”

Stefan Windmark, the lawyer for the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet, welcomed the recent decision. Aftonbladet had written to Charlie McCreevy earlier in the month to take action against Swedish Lottery Law because now some of its managers are facing fines and even jail.

Mr. Widmark was quoted as saying to Gaming Intelligence Group that, “We are very pleased that the Commission has taken up this matter with the Swedish government. In the letter from Aftonbladet to the Commission two weeks ago, we requested the Commission to take up the subject of poker, as the focus of previous actions has been on the field of sport betting.”

The action undertaken this week is only the beginning of what may be a bitter and drawn out legal battle. If these nations do not offer satisfactory answers to the Commission’s questions then they will be forced to answer to the European Court of Justice. Hopefully justice and common sense will prevail so that Europe’s poker players will soon have the options of play which they deserve.

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