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Monday July 4, 2011 : European Commission's Green Paper consultative deadline in sight
Interested parties seeking a more uniform and practical internet gambling regulatory system throughout European Union nations are running out of time, with the consultative interval outlined in the European Commission's Green Paper due to close in a month.
EU politician Jürgen Creutzmann said at the European Gambling Policy Conference in Brussels last week that Europe-wide regulation of the internet gambling industry is the only solution to the current and confusing fragmentation of the market.
“The market is distorted at the moment and the current regulation doesn’t work,” said Creutzmann, one of the European Parliament's rapporteurs for the green paper.
The online gambling market in Europe is still growing, according to analysts. In 2008, online gambling services accounted for more than Euro 6 billion in revenue.
Numerous industry executives and observers have previously commented that the lack of cohesion on regulations between the Member States and the EU contributes to an increase in costs, fraud and unlicensed gambling,
The European Gaming and Betting Association has in the past asserted that a common policy would save money.
The Association, a trade body that represents most of Europe's large online gambling providers, claims that fragmentation of a single industry into 27 small independent national markets, which each add varying taxes and fees, is expensive.
Additional costs such as unrealistically priced licensing fees, can make entry into markets by law-abiding and responsible companies overpriced and impractical, leaving the door open to less integrity driven operators.
And this could result in punters favouring cheaper, albeit riskier, alternatives like unlicensed operators.
There is also risk of driving customers away with too much regulation. “We don’t want our customers to go to unregulated markets in China, for example,” said Antonio Costanzo, director of Sport Integrity and Regulation, at the Brussels conference. “We want to keep people in regulated and legal markets.”
Costanzo suggested that harmonised EU regulation of the industry would help eliminate sports corruption by increasing enforcement of this largely unregulated pastime. He pointed out that match fixing is a criminal offence in Spain and the United Kingdom but not in Bulgaria. An overarching online gambling law would help standardise policy, and simplify enforcement, he opined.
“I feel that a European approach is needed if we are to best serve the EU citizen,” said MEP Simon Busettil. “The European Union itself has failed to pick up this hot potato and so it has fallen to the national governments.”
MEP Christel Schaldemose presented an alternative motivation for the current fragmentation. “Many Member States do not want the EU to regulate in this area because they want to keep the money where it is," she said, pointing out that there was a variety of different interests at work.
"Some Member States don’t want large gambling markets because of religious reasons,” she added.
Her view was to some extent confirmed by representatives of the Association of Charity Lotteries, who had reservations about EU-powered regulation, fearing that it could divert wagering away from organisations that support the charities.
“With the liberalisation of the market, grass roots sports in countries such as the Netherlands risk losing a lot of their funding from charity lotteries,” said executive director Tatiana van Lier. According to the Netherlands Gaming Control Board, that nation alone gave about 49 percent of its online gambling revenues to charity lotteries and other charitable organisations last year.
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