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The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled the European Commission must investigate the Dutch lottery tender process.

The decision will see a state aid investigation launched that will look into whether illegal financial advantages resulted from the way in which the Dutch authorities granted licences to lotteries.  

The case – European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) v. Commission – pitted the European online gambling trade body against the EU executive.

EGBA initially complained about the tender process in 2016. State aid, defined as a business receiving inappropriate support from its government, is prohibited under EU competition law.

In 2020, the Commission’s decided not to launch an investigation into the matter, ruling that the Netherlands’ actions did not constitute unlawful state aid.

The lobbying organisation appealed the decision to the CJEU in March 2021. It pointed to how incumbent lottery operators had their licences renewed without a competitive licensing process, arguing the lack of investigation was an infringement of its rights.

The 15 November ruling saw the CJEU side with EGBA, annulling the Commission’s decision. The court also ordered the body to pay EGBA’s legal costs for the appeal.

The court’s opinion emphasised “the complete absence of appropriate investigation” into the matter.

EU law mandates an investigation if there is any concern that unlawful state aid may have been present.

“The fact that this issue was not examined in the contested decision does not make it possible to rule out the existence of serious difficulties in that connection,” said the court.

“The contested decision must therefore be annulled, without there being any need to examine the second plea.”

“Frankly speaking we are not surprised”

EGBA secretary general Maarten Haijer said the organisation welcomed the decision “but frankly speaking we are not surprised by it.”

He continued by arguing the case raised serious doubts about whether the Dutch licensing process complied with EU law.

“We are confident the Commission will now carry out a thorough investigation, and we are ready to provide any necessary information and data.

“It is crucial for the Commission to uphold EU law consistently across all sectors, without fear or favour, including the gambling sector. The selective enforcement of EU law undermines the Commission’s institutional role as the guardian of the treaties.”