(CN) - Italy's recent overhaul of its legalized gambling scheme did not unfairly shut out online betting houses from the licensing process, the EU high court ruled on Thursday.
Stanley International Betting and its Maltese subsidiary Stanleybet challenged the 2012 overhaul of Italy's gaming sector, which was necessary after three separate run-ins with the EU court system since 1999.
The Stanley companies - which have been operating online gambling terminals throughout Italy for years without a license or police authorization - claimed that shorter and more restrictive licenses handed out in 2012 effectively blocked them from participating in the nation's burgeoning gambling industry.
Specifically, Stanleybet pointed to previous rulings by the EU high court that decriminalized online and intermediary betting in Italy and allowed the companies to set up shop there in the first place.
But in a ruling issued Thursday, the Court of Justice of the European Union sided with Italy this go-round - finding that gaming officials there had the authority to revoke and reissue licenses in the overhaul efforts.
The Luxembourg-based court admitted that existing licensees enjoy a competitive advantage since they were there during the time Italy illegally excluded other gambling operators. But since the new licenses apply to them as well - a 40-month permit rather than the previous ones that lasted 9 to 12 years - the playing field is now more level.
"Furthermore, account should also be taken of the fact that the Stanley companies have been conducting their operations in Italy through data transmission centers for approximately 15 years without holding any license or police authorization, with the result that they may not truly be described as 'new entrants on the market,'" the court wrote.
In the absence of EU-wide harmonization of the gambling industry - due to differing moral values across the continent - national authorities enjoy wide latitude to regulate the industry on public policy grounds. Shorter licenses that all expire on the same date may serve Italy's legitimate objective to restrict gaming and curb crime and would not break any EU laws, according to the 6-page opinion.
"If, in future, the national authorities wanted to reduce the number of licenses granted or exercise stricter control over activities in the field of betting and gambling, such measures would be facilitated if all the licenses were awarded for the same duration and expired at the same time," the court concluded.
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