Thursday, October 20, 2011 : British minister urges EU respect for the rights of individual member states when it comes to the regulation of internet gambling
In a debate arranged this week by the European Gaming and Betting Association and The Parliament Magazine, senior European politicians and industry experts exchanged views on the regulation of internet gambling across Europe as political structures wrestled with touchy topics such as states’ rights to govern their own industries.
John Penrose, who as UK tourism and heritage minister is responsible for the British gambling portfolio, urged the EU to respect the individual rights of each member state to regulate online gambling at the national level.
He supported his argument by pointing out that different cultural attitudes and norms "vary enormously" across Europe, reports The Parliament.com.
"In the UK we have light touch regulation and an open market but member states such as Poland and Portugal have more conservative views on gambling and their legalization is more restrictive," he noted.
"These differences have deep roots and spring from fundamentally different religious traditions and managing the always-fuzzy dividing line between things which are harmless and enjoyable for the majority of the population but potentially seriously harmful for a small minority."
The debate formed part of the "Responsible Gaming Day" activities in the European Parliament this week, and was of particular interest, with a report on internet gambling due for discussion in the parliament mid-November.
The report, drafted by Jurgen Creutzmann, already has the backing of the EC internal market committee and will become parliament's formal response to a European Commission consultative Green Paper.
Penrose emphasised the importance of protecting the consumer in any regulation of online gambling, but observed that gambling was a contentious and emotive political issue, overseen by 27 different national systems and cultures in the EU.
He said that there was scope for practical cooperation but cautioned against "unnecessary bureaucracy, duplication and a ‘tick box' approach to regulation".
Creutzmann, a German deputy, said he supported EU-wide harmonisation of current rules in order to bring member states into line with each other, but pointed out that online gambling is still regulated exclusively at national or even regional level across the EU.
"The policy options chosen by member states could not be more different, ranging from outright prohibitions of any form of online gambling to perfectly liberalised markets in other member states," Creutzmann said. "However, the internet does not have any physical borders. Therefore, the market is distorted at the moment and the regulation does not work."
Creutzmann has had the unenviable task as parliament's rapporteur of reconciling a number of different international views on regulation.
"On the one hand, you have the defenders of the free market who would like to liberalise online gambling completely," he said. "On the other hand, you have the defenders of state monopolies who think that this is the only way to protect consumers and combat organised crime."
"Lobbies on both sides have been very active in trying to influence MEPs but national interests have also been very influential which explains the large number of amendments that were tabled to my draft report."
"As rapporteur, it is my job to facilitate a sensible compromise which is ambitious but can still be supported by a broad majority of parliament."