Online gaming firms urge EU to open up markets

Reuters News

11/19/2012 5:19:59 AM - Reuters News

LONDON (Reuters) - Online gaming companies have accused Belgium and Greece of keeping them out of their markets illegally and urged European competition authorities to take action.

A long-running dispute over licenses in Belgium made headlines last week when Belgian authorities questioned one of the co-chief executives of bwin.party, the world's largest listed online gaming group.

The bwin.party case has underlined the problems faced by companies in the growing online gaming sector when they operate in countries where regulations are unclear or restrictive.

Bwin.party says it is losing 700,000 euros ($889,400) in gaming revenue each month after access to its websites was blocked in Belgium.

Executives from 12 gaming companies including bwin.party said the European Commission had failed to follow through on concerns over Belgian laws first raised in 2009.

"We hope that the Commission will now enforce compliance with the European treaty and do so swiftly," they said in a letter to the Financial Times.

"Countries such as Belgium and Greece that are in clear breach of EU law and that are seeking to enforce those laws domestically are likely to be at the top of the list," it added.

"The time for polite rhetoric is now over. It is time for deeds not words."

Belgian rules state that a company must offer the same services both online and offline to obtain a licence. Opponents say that favors companies based in Belgium and means pure online providers cannot operate.

In Greece, bookmakers including Britain's William Hill launched a legal challenge to monopoly operator OPAP after being denied licenses. ($1 = 0.7871 euros)

(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)