The European Commission announced yesterday that they have dropped a series of legal charges against Italy regarding their stance on internet gambling. An agreement has been reached which will see changes made to Italian gambling laws, effectively ending local monopolies on internet gambling and allowing gambling groups from other EU states to offer their services to Italian players.
Italy’s previous stance on internet gambling was extremely restrictive. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and the National Horse Breeders Enhancement Society (UNIRE) had the exclusive rights to all sports betting, including online sportsbooks in Italy. In fact, Italy proactively blocked foreign-hosted betting sites to prevent players from accessing them. The EC found these practices to be in violation of EU rules on the freedom to provide services, and decided to take legal action against the country.
While the EU will permit member states to restrict online gambling services for public interest, the restrictions must be proportionate to local offerings, and must be non-discriminatory. EC officials felt that Italy’s gambling laws did not meet these requirements.
This legal pressure from the EC drove Italy to relax its stance on internet poker in 2008 when the country became more receptive to foreign operators, but they remained reluctant to dismantle their local sports betting monopolies. As a result of the recent agreement between Italian lawmakers and the European Commission, Italy has agreed to open its online sports betting market to other operators. Italian citizens will soon enjoy a broader range of choices with regards online gambling and internet sports betting services than before.
The battle between the EC and Italy began in 2003 after several complaints were made. Legal action was initialized in 2006, which marked the beginning of several years of constructive dialogue. A formal agreement was reached in late 2009, but it was not until this week that the EC dropped the charges against the country. The Commission has said it is pleased with the changes Italy has made.