After extensive debate and over 400 amendments, European Parliamentarians voted to adopt an ‘own initiative report' by Danish Socialist MEP Christel Schaldemose on Monday. But the largely negative report on “The integrity of online gambling” is overshadowed by the support of a wide range of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to an alternative proposal.
The European Gambling and Betting Association says the alternative solution is backed by MEPs representing at least 9 Member States and the three main European political parties, and seeks to approach online gaming and betting in a more practical way, in line with the cross-border nature of the sector and taking into consideration both the challenges and opportunities offered in this area by Internet technology.
The Secretary General of EGBA, Sigrid Ligne confirmed that Association members support the alternative report, which reflects an important move within the European Parliament towards more workable solutions.
The much-amended Schaldemose report is a cause for concern because although it calls on the European Commission to “carry out studies and make appropriate proposals,” it also puts forward the idea that EU member states could control individual national gambling markets instead of being compelled to adhere to a uniform code or the EU principle of "free movement of goods and services" between EU member nations. This will undoubtedly appeal to various governments with lucrative state gambling monopolies which they wish to protect and reserve exclusively.
"This report being split between a national or a community approach, therefore fails to make any clear recommendation on actions to be taken," a statement from EGBA asserts.
"What is clear however is that no harmonised EU legalization is foreseeable in the near future due to lack of political will of both Member States and the European Parliament. This was first evidenced by the discussions within the Council initiated recently by the French Presidency and now by clear divisions amongst MEPs expressed in the context of the Schaldemose ‘own initiative' report," the statement adds.
The alternative course supported by EGBA and its members is the establishment of a European Code of Conduct, which it feels is the best practical option in the near future to ensure that EU licensed operators offering their services cross-border abide throughout the EU to a common and consistent set of responsible standards.
Ligné said, “Today’s vote shows that we cannot expect an EU harmonised legalization to be adopted in the near future. This clearly means that it is the [free passage of goods and services] rules of the Treaty and the case law of the European Court of Justice that continue to apply and that will prevail for our sector in the years to come”.
"The only tangible EU initiatives in the pipeline to enforce the right of EU operators to a non-discriminatory market access are the current infringements which were launched by the Commission some years ago," Ligne concludes. "These infringements need now urgently to be brought to the next level with all non-cooperative Member States including Germany, Sweden or Denmark."
In the run-up to the main debate, the European Parliament's Internal Market Committee leant toward regulation of online sportsbetting by individual national governments, but this was by no means a unanimous decision, with 10 key opposing votes and 32 for the proposal.
The final version of Schaldemose's report sought a common EU position on issues such as gambling addiction, misuse of personal data or credit cards, illegal betting behaviour and match-fixing, age limits, a ban on credit and other measures to protect children and gambling addicts.
Last (February) month a public hearing looked at match-fixing and illegal betting on sports events. During the hearing Committee Chair Arlene McCarthy said, "…match fixing is as old as sporting matches, but new technology opens up new risks for fraud alongside the positive opportunities it presents. Sport fans expect to see honest games, and I support tough action against all forms of match fixing and sport betting fraud."
However, she warned national governments against "hypocritical" national rules that would protect state-owned betting companies.
The Remote Gambling Association was among the first to react to news of the adoption of the Schaldemose report, denouncing the move and condemning its "overplaying" of the risks involved in Internet gambling.
Expressing disappointment at the EU Parliament’s decision to ignore the findings of an independent report commissioned through Europe Economics, the RGA chief executive, Clive Hawkswood, said: “From the beginning, the industry welcomed the initiative by the European Parliament to examine the integrity of the online gaming industry.
“We have a good story to tell if people are willing to hear it, but unfortunately many people have deeply ingrained anti-gambling prejudices and, of course, there are powerful vested interests that are opposed to the opening up of markets in the EU.
“The serious claims in this Resolution are highly detrimental to European-licensed operators, which already comply with stringent legalization and high standards of consumer protection and social responsibility. Moreover, it blindly ignores the findings of the [EU] Parliament’s own study, prepared by Europe Economics which demonstrates the lack of evidence to support many of these arguments.
“The adopted resolution is more about the funding of sports and effectively protecting existing national gambling markets rather than the integrity of online gambling, which was meant to be its real purpose,” Hawkswood concluded.