A court hearing on May 5, in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, will hear Bet365’s appeal against a decision by the State Gambling Commission (SGC) to withdraw its gaming license.
The backstory on Bet365 and Bulgaria
Bet365, a major sports betting operator in Europe, was first approved for a Bulgarian gambling license in August last year. However, before the license was issued, the SGC changed its mind and withdrew its approval.
The SGC says that it took the decision based on Bet365’s failure to exit the market after new laws created the current licensing procedures.
A meeting in February confirmed the decision, and Bet365 launched two legal challenges. The first was heard on April 28, with the second to be held this week.
After the first hearing, Bet365 shut down access to a domain — www.28365-365.com — that Bulgarian customers could use to place their bets. Shortly afterwards, access was restored, and customers were advised to either wait for the next court decision, or contact Bet365 about their accounts.
SGC is accused of protecting national operators from competition
Bet365 alleges that the decision to withdraw the license was taken to prevent it from competing with the existing licensees in the country. Five of the fifteen current licensees can be traced back to a single Bulgarian owner.
Bet365 has notified the EU Commission of the situation, and representatives are expected to be in court to monitor the Bulgarian process.
Under EU competition laws, Bulgaria needs to show valid reasons why Bet365 should not be licensed in order for the court’s decision to be justified.
Other blacklisted operators have been given licenses
Bet365 was placed on the first blacklist issued by the SGC, alongside Betfair and many other big-name operators. Some of those operators, including PokerStars, have subsequently been issued a license.
Bet365 alleges that the SGC has not shown clear evidence or reasonable cause why it too should not have a license.
“Our policy at Bet365 is to get licenses and pay our obligations, complying with European jurisdictions and respective national laws. As a result, our group is one of the companies with the most licenses and is one of the most regulated betting groups in the world,” said a spokesperson for Bet365.
Bet365 is in a similar position in Romania
Bet365 is also contesting a similar license decision in Romania. The regulator ONJN withdrew its license approval after accusing the company of offering services to Romanian customers during a pre-license application standstill period.
Bet365 paid €30 million in back gaming taxes to the Romanian government in order to be eligible for a license. It has paid over €250,000 in back taxes to the Bulgarian government.
The case is expected to produce a resolution within a few weeks. If Bet365 remains excluded from the market, it is likely to appeal, if necessary to the Court of Justice of the European Union.