LUXEMBOURG (CN) - Portugal has the right to regulate online gambling, but it can't fine the league that organizes the country's top professional soccer championships unless the European Commission has been notified about the new legislation, an adviser to Europe's highest court ruled.
Portuguese legislators gave the nonprofit organization Santa Casa da Misericordia de Lisboa the exclusive right to organize and operate lotteries and off-course betting, including Internet gambling.
Santa Casa imposed a 74,500-euro fine on BAW International (Bwin), a Gibraltar-based online gambling company, and ordered the Liga Portuguesa de Futebol Profissional to pay 75,000 euros for advertising and offering online betting. The Liga Portuguesa organizes the top two major professional soccer tournaments in Portugal: the Portuguese Liga and the Liga de Honra.
Bwin and Liga contested the fines before the Tribunal de Pequena Instancia Criminal do Porto, but the tribunal was uncertain whether the Portuguese rules comply with community law.
Advocate General Yves Bot determined that although the new legislation restricts "the freedom to provide services," it does not violate community law if it's reasonable, narrowly tailored, and justified by an overriding public interest.
Bot said the national court must apply these standards to decide if the regulations are appropriate under community law.
However, if the Portuguese government has not notified the legislation, the advocate general said the fines against Bwin and Liga cannot stand.
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