Tuesday October 23,2012 : HEAD OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION ON INTERNET GAMBLING REGULATION
Michel Barnier writes op-ed article for Times of Malta
Perhaps as a preview of the European Commission's release of its action report on online gambling scheduled for today, the Commission's head, Michele Barnier published an article in The Times of Malta newspaper Tuesday.
Titled "Make Online Gambling Safe," the article explores regulatory issues in the internet gambling industry in Europe, which Barnier claims is the largest and most rapidly expanding global market for the pastime, with nearly seven million users in the EU, and revenues that are expected to reach Euro 13 billion by 2015.
"As the EU Commissioner in charge of online services, I believe that the size and special nature of this market means that its regulation and supervision must be effective and go hand in hand with societal considerations, to protect consumers and avoid fraud and match-fixing in sports," the Commissioner writes.
"Due to the fast development of technology, online gambling is now available not only on computers but also via mobile phones and TVs: around 15,000 sites are accessible in Europe. But over 85 per cent of these are unlicensed, bringing with them the dangers of fraud, money laundering and gambling-related disorders such as addiction."
Barnier references the EC consultation on internet gambling carried out last year, observing that it found that although national governments have the same objectives of protecting consumers and preventing fraud, they cannot effectively regulate or respond to the challenges posed by online gambling on an individual basis, nor can they cannot ensure the high level of protection from the risks of unregulated online gambling that every EU citizen deserves.
He bemoans the lack of a culture of cooperation among national gambling regulators, and its limited scope despite the fact that regulators face common challenges and can learn from one other by sharing good practices.
Barnier writes that he hopes to foster a more cohesive policy for online gambling in the EU, at the same time respecting the rights and diversity of national laws.
"We have seen the negative consequences of poorly regulated markets before and do not want to see this happen again in the area of online gambling," he notes.
"A comprehensive European framework for online gambling should contribute to making authorised gambling opportunities more easily identifiable and more attractive, thereby dissuading consumers from using unregulated offers.”
However, Barnier does not go so far as to suggest an EU-wide law on internet gambling:
“What I am proposing is a comprehensive set of actions and common principles of protection," he writes. "There are certain key groups that we must take special care to protect: these are our children and other vulnerable groups.
"Since 75 per cent of EU citizens under the age of 17 use the internet, this is an age group that needs particular attention. I am therefore encouraging the development of better age-verification tools and online content filters. I will also push for more responsible advertising, and increased awareness of the dangers that are associated with gambling."
In addition, Barnier says that there is also a responsibility to "protect those citizens and families who have already suffered from a gambling addiction (between 0.5-3 per cent of our population), by finding effective methods of treatment and cure." To further this, he suggests that a better understanding of the underlying causes of problem gambling is needed.
Another key objective is to prevent and deter fraud and money-laundering. Due to the cross-border nature of online gambling, individual Member States cannot successfully apply anti-fraud mechanisms in isolation. An approach that brings together the EU, Member States and industry is necessary to tackle the problem from all angles and to ensure effectiveness.
The integrity of sports is also an important imperative, necessitating a similar level of regulatory collaboration.
Barnier asserts that betting-related match-fixing goes against the very nature of fair play and competition that defines sport, and promises that the Commission will promote greater cooperation at national and international level between stakeholders, operators and regulators, as well as encouraging better education and increased awareness of sports people.
"To accomplish these ambitious goals we need to take a number of important steps, the Commissioner claims:
* Crack down on sites which are not regulated in any manner;
* Develop legal alternatives that are attractive enough:
* Take measures to ensure that the growth of the online gambling market is safe and supervised.
Barnier concludes his article by revealing that the Commission will be working with member states and the European Parliament to implement the many measures put forward.
"But it will also be monitoring progress and evaluating the effectiveness of these measures – and where they prove insufficient will not hesitate to come forward with additional initiatives," he warned.