Tuesday October 23,2012 : EUROPEAN COMMISSION UNVEILS ACTION PLAN
Moves toward more regulatory harmony, precautions against money laundering and renewed legal action to protect EU principles
Unidentified sources were active in leaking information from the European Commission's much-awaited action plan on internet gambling Tuesday, pre-empting Commissioner Michel Barnier's mid-afternoon press conference tabling the Commission's proposals for the way forward titled ‘Towards a comprehensive European Framework for online gambling’.
Quoting unidentified EU officials ahead of the press conference, the Bloomberg business news agency reported that proposed measures include tougher safeguards against money laundering, and the promotion of hotlines against match fixing.
There are also plans to speed up probes into whether national restrictions on online gambling firms are legal in a bid to clarify market-access rules for the industry, the official commented.
There has been a moratorium on EC action against national regulators whilst the Commission has conducted its consultations and deliberations on the best way forward for online gambling in Europe.
This has necessitated the exercise of patience by companies like Bwin.Party digital entertainment, Ladbrokes and Betfair which have lodged complaints regarding attempts by some national monopolies to exclude them from certain markets in the 27-nation European Union, or impose unreasonable restrictions on cross-border internet gambling.
The Commission has received complaints about market-access curbs in 20 EU nations, the official said. But it has considered and rejected proposing legalization to clarify competition rules for the industry.
Following the Commission's press conference Tuesday, the Remote Gaming Association – a trade body representing most of Europe and the UK's major internet gambling firms – weighed in with its thoughts.
The European Commission's action plans covers five broad areas:
* compliance of national regulatory frameworks with EU law
* enhancing administrative cooperation and efficient enforcement
* protecting consumers and citizens, minors and vulnerable groups
* preventing fraud and money laundering
* safeguarding the integrity of sports and preventing match-fixing
The Association welcomed the call for EU regulators to work more closely together and applauded the Commission for its renewed commitment to ensure that all EU national regulatory frameworks are fully compliant with EU law and principles.
"It is clear from the Communication that the Commission will now without delay resume investigations against non-compliant Member States and, if necessary, open new proceedings," the RGA statement noted.
"To this end, the Staff Working Document accompanying the Communication provides ‘red lines' that Member States should not cross when regulating or seeking to prohibit online gambling," it comments.
The Commission also proposes to extend the scope of the Anti-Money Laundering Directive to all forms of gambling and bring forward two key formal Recommendations in 2013 on common minimum protection standards for consumers, and responsible gambling advertising.
An ‘expert group' will be set up to encourage dialogue and facilitate formal administrative cooperation between national authorities including a possible common testing standard.
"The Commission is also seeking to tackle match-fixing through a recommendation to be adopted in 2013," the statement continues, noting that although the RGA supports this objective and is confident that the betting industry will continue to play a constructive role in the fight against corruption, it is essential that this initiative is not used as a pretext for sports to be given any control over the betting sector or the products it offers.
Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the RGA, said:
“We look forward to discussing the detail of these proposals, but in the main they appear to be worthy attempts to address the headline issues. In the longer term we hope that they will lead to greater regulatory consistency across the EU and bring an end to the completely fragmented market that has developed so far.
"We will continue to engage and work with the European Commission and other stakeholders so that governments and consumers can have confidence in the regulation of our industry.
"It is equally important that the licensed private sector online gambling industry is treated fairly and in accordance with EU law. At the moment there are over 30 complaints against Member State laws and regulations that are apparently in breach of EU law.
“There has been no action since 2008 on a single complaint or infringement proceeding. The Commission’s credibility as guardian of the Treaty can only be guaranteed if it now proceeds with the rapid and substantive action that Commissioner Barnier has indicated will take place”.