Betting Websites Blacklisted in Italy
The Italian Monopolies Authority (Amministrazione Autonoma dei Monopoli di Stato) adopted on February 7, 2006 a decree banning access to certain betting and gaming websites (see "Italy: Italian Government Blacklists Foreign Betting Websites at http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?articleid=38132&lastestnews=1"). The decree requires Italian internet service providers to prevent Italian users from accessing the website.
By virtue of the decree, as of 12:00 a.m. on February 24, 2006 Italian internet services providers were bound to block access to all betting and gaming blacklisted websites.
Two months following the establishment of such "blacklist" Courts are now issuing the first decisions on this matter.
Italian Court Opines on the Blacklist
An Italian agent of Stanley International Ltd (a UK betting operator which has been fighting its battle against Italian regulation for a long time now) requested the Administrative Court of L'Aquila to stay the decree of Italian Monopolies Authority. On March 30, 2006 the Court rejected such request, finding that the claim lacked the grounds required by administrative law to issue such an interim measure.
The blacklisted Maltese betting operator Astrabet Ltd tried an alternative route: it sued before the civil Court of Rome the Italian Monopolies Authority and SO.GE.I. SpA (the company in charge with providing IT services to Italian Monopolies Authority). Astrabet’s lawyers argued that the recent Italian regulations on e-gambling would infringe rights granted both by the Italian Constitution and EU law such as: freedom of establishment, freedom to provide services and rules on privacy of telecommunications. Astrabet then argued that the blacklist caused irreparable damage and therefore requested the Civil Court of Rome to issue interim measures to adequately protect Astrabet’s rights. S.N.A.I., Trionfale S.r.l., Lottomatica S.p.A., SISAL S.p.A. and Match Point S.p.A. (prominent Italian betting operators, duly licensed under Italian law) joined the proceedings with amicus curiae briefs arguing in favour of the validity of Italian legislation on betting, and in particular of the blacklist.
On April 10, 2006 the Civil Court of Rome uppheld the request of Astrabet and ordered the Italian Monopolies Authority to lift the technical measures preventing connection to the www.astrabet.com website.
The Court held that the betting services provided through internet by Astrabet may not be restricted by Italian law since, the Court argued, Italian law does not apply to such operator. This is because Astrabet provides its betting service without any physical connection with the Italian territory: Astrabet’s servers are located in Malta, all the bets are collected into a bank account opened in Bank of Valletta, etc.
The order has already been enforced and as of today www.astrabet.com works regularly from Italy.
The order, being of an interim nature, is subject to challenge. The deadline to challenge the order has expired and one can certainly expect that the Italian State will continue its fight during the proceedings on the merits.
In addition, the order is binding only between the parties of the proceeding and therefore it will not automatically benefit other blacklisted websites.
The Blacklist is Working. Is it Really?
Presently 553 websites (both European and extra EU) are included in the blacklist (the updated blacklist is downloadable at http://www.aams.it/site.php?page=20060213093339418).
The regulatory framework is entirely unclear and, as a consequence, some Internet Service Providers are not complying with the decree adopted by the Italian Monopolies Authority. As a consequence some internet service providers are still allowing access to the blacklisted websites.
To add to the confusion, some Italian internet service providers and authorities have gone even further than required by the resolution and are presently blocking access to betting and gaming websites which do not appear on the blacklist.
In this scenario it is clear that the recent Italian regulation on e-gambling (the 2006 Italian Budget law, the decree subsequently adopted by the Italian Monopolies Authority on February 7, 2006 and the related blacklist) will be likely challenged again both at national level and EU level. In this respect, Astrabet’s interim decision is a powerful precedent to encourage other blacklisted betting and gaming operators to request Italian Courts to stay the Italian restrictions on EU online betting operators.
On the other side notwithstanding Astrabet decision, the Italian government will probably continues its battle against online betting and gaming.
Meanwhile, the EU Commission is also taking steps in this field, having sent on April 6, 2006 a warning to the Italian government (and other EU Member States such as Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden) requesting information on the existing restrictions on online betting and gaming. This will probably lead to EU-level proceedings against Italy to eliminate the blacklist, at least as long as it applies to EU operators’ websites.
Game over? Not Yet!
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