It’s been reported at dlapiper.com that the Portuguese Government (or Troika) have announced plans to legalise online gambling.
Over the next 3 months a working group will be formed charged with the task of proposing a new regulatory framework.
It’s very early days and no details (or hints) as to the scope or timing of changes has been given. But there’s no uncertainty as to the motivation for big policy about face. The government needs more money.
Portugal’s protectionist stance has been significant and oft-cited in the context of the wider EU policy debate on internet gambling. The European Court of Justice’s ruling in the Santa Casa case struck a blow against online gambling operators and emboldened those EU Members wanting to protect local monopoly gambling enterprises.
Under Portuguese gaming regulations the only organisation allowed to advertise its betting product in Portugal is local monopoly operator Santa Casa. Back in 2008, Bwin was found to be in breach of these regulations by a local court and fined after advertising their product in Portugal (sponsorship of local football league Liga Portugesa de Futebol Profissional ). Bwin challenged this decision in the European Court of Justice, arguing that the Portuguese laws were in breach of EU freedom service provisions. The ECJ sided with Santa Casa, saying that a ban on foreign operators is OK as long as it is in the public interest.
As you can imagine, any EU member wanting to ban the likes of Bwin, William Hill, 888, bet365, etc from offering and marketing their product to residents, while still allowing local gambling organizations to operate, have since been quick to cite the Santa Casa public interest argument (eg Germany).
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of online gambling regulations are proposed, and eventually put in place in Portugal.
I suspect, given their history, they won’t be the most liberal online gambling laws in Europe.