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Brussels, 31 January 2008

Free movement of services: Commission inquires into restrictions on the provision of certain gambling services in Sweden

The European Commission has decided to send an official request for information on national legislation restricting the supply and promotion of certain gambling services to Sweden. In April 2006 the Commission sent a similar request for information to Sweden concerning sports betting (IP/06/436). In this new case the Commission wishes to verify whether all national measures relating to poker games and tournaments are consistent and therefore compatible with Article 49 of the EC Treaty, which guarantees the free movement of services. The Commission's decision relates only to the compatibility of the national measures in question with existing EU law. It does not touch upon the existence of monopolies as such, or on national lotteries. Nor does it have any implications for the liberalisation of the market for gambling services generally, or for the entitlement of Member States to seek to protect the general interest, so long as this is done in a manner consistent with EU law i.e. that any measures are necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. The letter of formal notice is the first step in an infringement procedure under Article 226 of the EC Treaty. Sweden has two months in which to respond. The Commission hopes that the answer it receives will lead to an early and satisfactory resolution of the matter.

This latest inquiry into Swedish national gambling restrictions focuses on various issues relating to poker games and tournaments.

Poker games and tournaments are today offered in Swedish international casinos and, since 2006, the state-owned company also offers such services online on a large scale. However, the national legislation prevents online poker games and tournaments offered by operators licensed and regulated in other Member States. 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 organised within licensed premises in another Member State.

The European Court of Justice has previously stated that any restrictions which seek to protect general interest objectives, such as the protection of consumers, must be “consistent and systematic” in how they seek to limit betting activities. A Member State cannot invoke the need to restrict its citizens’ access to betting services if at the same time it incites and encourages them to participate in state lotteries, games of chance or betting which benefits the state’s finances.

The latest information on infringement proceedings concerning all Member States can be found at:

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