Stanleys EU call on gambling restrictions - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

LIVERPOOL-BASED gaming group Stanley Leisure is pushing for European competition authorities to open up the continents gambling markets.

And a senior director has told the Daily Post he believes the European Commission may be about to initiate an investigation.

If widespread deregulation were to follow then UK bookmakers like Stanley and Ladbrokes could gain full access to markets worth tens of billions of pounds.

The groups sports betting division, Stanleybet, already operates in several European countries including Croatia, Romania, Italy and, in recent months, Belgium and Germany.

Sports betting in mainland Europe is much more tightly regulated than in the UK with much of it in the hands of state-controlled monopolies.

Stanleybet operates fully licensed bookmaking outlets in Croatia and Romania but in Italy, Belgium and Germany it employs agents who have to contact the Liverpool HQ by computer to have each bet approved.

Along with Ladbrokes and other gaming companies, Stanleybet has made complaints to the Commission about restrictive practices in the European gaming industry and finance director Adrian Morris said there are indications from behind the scenes the issue is about to be taken up. Mr Morris added: "At the moment, there are several complaints in the hands of the Commission and we believe they might be about to move forward on Denmark where there is a monopoly.

"Our potential market could certainly be a lot bigger than it is now."

In 2003, Stanleybets right to offer cross-border betting was challenged by the Italian government.

However, the European Court of Justice ruled any restrictions were contrary to the Treaty of Rome.

However, Mr Morris believes the industry would face a much easier task if the European Commission were to rule on the issue.

Stanleys 600-strong UK betting shop network was last month sold to rival William Hill in a £504m deal but the company insists it has no plans to sell off the European operation.

The last financial figures released by Stanley in January showed half-year turnover in the international division was up 46% to £45.3m although profit declined 14% to £1.8m following unfavourable sporting results.

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