COBALT team successfully represented SIA Latsson Licensing, the owner of an online gaming platform Betsafe Latvia, in the Constitutional Court in a matter relating to legislator’s-imposed restrictions on the provision of interactive gaming services during the state of emergency.
Following the declaration of a nation-wide state of emergency due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and with the aim to protect persons and their families from unnecessary expenditure and deterioration of their financial situation during an economic downturn, in March 2020 the Latvian Parliament imposed restrictions not only on the operation of land-based gaming venues, but also on the provision of online gaming services. Having doubts regarding such restriction’s compliance with the constitutional principle of legitimate expectations and the right to property, SIA Latsson Licensing, together with a number of other gaming operators, applied before the Constitutional Court.
On 11 December 2020, the Constitutional Court handed down a judgment in case No. 2020-26-0106, holding that Article 9 of the Law “On the Compliance of Articles 8 and 9 of the Law “ (“Covid-19 Law”), insofar it imposed an obligation to suspend licenses for the provision of online gaming services, is incompatible with the principle of legitimate expectations inherent in Article 1 of the Constitution, in conjunction with the right to property enshrined in Article 105 of the Constitution.
The Constitutional Court held that, despite the legislator’s-imposed restrictions being provided by law and pursuing a legitimate aim, attainment of such an aim did not require the imposing of restrictions on the provision of online gaming services. Article 9 of the Covid-19 Law restricted any person from accessing any type of interactive (online) gaming services, irrespective of such person’s psychological or financial state. As ruled by the Constitutional Court, a person’s right to freedom of self-determination shall have the highest value in a democratic state governed by the rule of law. Insofar it does not violate other persons’ rights, constitutional order or other public interests, the said freedom comprises a choice of any kind – irrespective of whether or not such a choice may be considered as valuable from a socioethical point of view, or whether it manifests person’s own free will. The legislator must respect persons’ freedom of choice. As found by the Constitution Court, even during a nation-wide state of emergency the legislator shall not adopt unreasonably vague provisions that restrict the rights of such persons that are not even the subject of the legislator’s-imposed restrictions’ legitimate aim.