BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission started legal action against Sweden on Thursday for failing to change its rules on online betting and poker games which it said breach EU law on the free movement of services.
The European Union’s executive referred Sweden to Europe’s highest court in two separate cases related to its restriction of gambling licences to domestic and state-owned operators only.
“Sweden is referred to the Court of Justice for imposing restrictions on the organisation and promotion of online betting services in a way which is inconsistent with EU law,” the Commission said in a statement.
“Changes to the Swedish gambling law in order to make it compliant with EU law have long been envisaged but never implemented.”
The two cases concern licensing for online betting and for poker games. Sweden only grants licences to domestic operators and state-owned entities, which the Commission says falls foul of EU rules on the free movement of services.
Under EU law its 28 member states are allowed to impose restrictions on the cross-border supply of some types of gambling activity to protect people against addiction or to prevent crime if they can demonstrate that the measures are suitable and necessary.
In the first case, the Commission said Sweden’s licensing system for online betting was not applied in a systematic way and the Swedish authorities did not adequately supervise the commercial activities of the exclusive service provider.
In its first response to the Commission’s decision on Thursday, the Swedish government said its intention was “to speed up the work that has been carried out for a long time in order to find a licensing system that could be introduced in Sweden”.
In the second case concerning Sweden’s regulation of online poker games, the Commission said the Swedish authorities had tolerated the unauthorised offer and promotion of poker games.
The European Gaming and Betting Association cheered the Commission’s move, calling it “a breakthrough decision” because it was the first time Brussels was taking a member state to court over its gambling laws.
Sweden was first asked to amend its betting laws in 2007 and was last warned about its inaction in November 2013.
Additional reporting by Johan Sennero in Stockholm; Editing by Gareth Jones