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EU Throws Flag on Italy’s Treatment of Bookies

(CN) - It is up to Italy's national courts to make the final say, but the European Court of Justice flagged a problem Thursday with a requirement for Italian bookies to turn over their bet-taking equipment when their gambling licenses are expire.

Italy enacted the scheme in 2012, calling for bet collectors to transfer the rights to their bet-collecting assets when their licenses expire, terminate or otherwise revoked. Offline Italian gambling operators use equipment to take bets on sporting and nonsporting events, such as horse racing.

Rosanna Laezza felt the brunt of the regulation in 2014 when police investigated the Stanleybet Malta affiliate she managed and uncovered its collection of unauthorized bets.

Laezza's challenge to the seizure of her bet-collecting equipment led the Frosinone District Court to ask whether Italy's licensing scheme conflicted with EU law.

In a statement on the case Thursday, the European Court of Justice noted that the requirement to turn over equipment without consideration "may render less attractive the exercise of the activity of collecting bets."

Since authorities have an interest in limiting gambling criminality, however, restrictions on the freedoms of gaming operators can be justified, so long as they are proportionate, according to the ruling.

The court called it unlikely that a gaming operator would prevail in calling it disproportionate if they lost their equipment upon having their license terminated or revoked.

"By contrast, that is not necessarily the case ... where the cessation of business occurs solely because the licence expires," the decision states.

"In the case where the licence agreement, which was concluded for a substantially shorter period than that of agreements concluded before the adoption of Decree-Law 2012 reaches its set expiry date, the fact that such a compulsory transfer is free of charge seems to be contrary to the requirement of proportionality, particularly where the objective of continuity of the authorised activity of the collection of bets could be attained by less restrictive measures, such as a compulsory transfer, but in return for payment of the market price of the assets concerned."

It would be less restrictive in such cases for the state to compel equipment transfer in return for market-price payment to the operator, the court found.

The court's judgment does not affect 2012 Italian regulations that put in a place a new licensing system for betting and gaming.

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