EU parliamentarians are still hotly debating the issue of online gambling against a background of possible prosecutions against state monopolies and the need to shield sports from corruption and unfairness, according to reports from Europe referenced 20090209IPR48787 this month.
The reports reveal that MEPs last week voted in favour of a motion before the Internal Market Committee that rules governing online gambling should not be laid down by the EU, as Member States are quite capable of regulating the industry themselves.
If successfully carried further in the EU political process, the idea that member nations have sovereignty to regulate and exclude foreign companies from their gambling markets could render the European Commission powerless in its efforts to ensure that gambling nations comply with the EU principle of free movement of goods and services.
However, a minority of Members disagreed strongly with the vote and will submit an alternative report in plenary.
The vote is a consequence of a controversial own-initiative and generally anti-online gambling report by Danish representative Christel Schaldemose which has snowballed with the addition of over 400 amendments. The final compromise was approved by 32 votes to 10 with one abstention, and the debate still rages.
The report as adopted calls on the European Council (which represents the Member States) to seek "a potential
political solution" to the problems of online and traditional gambling and betting. Studies and proposals, submitted by the European Commission at the request of the Council, could identify "common objectives" and a "common position" to enable action to be taken to solve the social and public order problems arising from cross-border online gambling such as gambling addiction and misuse of personal data or credit cards.
Joint measures could be envisaged to tackle risks relating to illegal betting behaviour and match-fixing, says the report. It also backs the development of standards for online gambling as regards age limits, a ban on credit and other measures or information to protect vulnerable gamblers such as children and gambling addicts.
Regarding advertising, MEPs believe self-regulation is not enough. Instead they stress the need for both regulation and cooperation between industry and the authorities.
Practical solutions should also be examined for limiting the danger of betting large sums of money. A maximum amount per month that a person can spend on gambling could be laid down or on-line gambling operators could be obliged to make use of pre-paid cards that would be sold in shops, says an amendment tabled by Toine Manders, a representative from The Netherlands.
MEPs are concerned about the deregulation of gambling, which is by far the most important source of income for sports organisations in many Member States. They also note that bets taken by private operators are a form of ‘commercial exploitation' of sports events. They recommend that governments protect sporting competitions from any unauthorised commercial use and take steps to ensure fair financial returns to the benefit of all levels of professional and amateur sport.
Despite the vote, the coordinator of the EPP-ED group, Malcolm Harbour from the United Kingdom, announced that a minority opinion would be tabled at the plenary vote – scheduled for the session of 9 to 12 March 2009 – because of divisions of a mainly national character, especially within his group.
He himself had signed or co-signed most of a number of amendments putting the emphasis on compliance with internal market rules and judgments of the European Court of Justice, but these were rejected, he said.
The minority in question argues that gambling is an economic activity to which internal market rules should apply, notably freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services, and that non-discriminatory access to national markets for operators who meet the requirements should be guaranteed by Member States under Articles 43 and 49 of the Treaty. It also believes that the dangers of online gambling, especially the consequences for consumers such as addiction, are unproven.
According to these same MEPs, rulings of the European Court of Justice and the ten infringement proceedings under way against Member States show that measures taken by some Member States do not comply with EU Community law and that a clarification of national and Community powers is needed.
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