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EU Commissioner to Address Online Gambling Issues

By: Adam Richards, Thursday February 18th 2010
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Michel Barnier has taken over as the Internal Markets Commissioner in the current European Commission (EC). One of the first issues that he has decided to take up is the resolution of the differences and disputes with the various member nations in the matter of online gambling. Barnier has already ordered the drafting of a position paper on online gambling. This paper will highlight the views that many member nations have that are divergent from European Union (EU) regulations and also define the EU policy. Barnier would be consulting the member countries. He hopes to get the approval by the College of Commissioners as well and be ready to begin implementation by fall this year.

Countries like France, Germany and Greece have refused to conform to the EU regulations. The main reason appears to be that the online gambling laws in these countries give local operators or state owned monopolies an advantage over private European providers of online gambling services. Some member countries have voiced concerns that freeing the online gambling markets will cause a spurt in problem gambling and also in minors engaging in gambling over the Internet. On the other hand the private gambling operators, represented by industry associations like the Remote Gaming Association (RTA) and the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), are insisting on the implementation of free trade in online gambling and the creation of a unified online gambling market in Europe.

Apart from the countries mentioned earlier, two countries have been in the recent news for defying the EU policy on online gambling. One of them is Finland. The Finnish state gambling monopolies, RAY and Veikkaus Oy, have been given exclusive permission to offer online gambling. These gaming companies will launch online poker and online casino games from March 2010 under a new and exclusive licensing regime. The other EU country in the news is Spain. In Spain winnings from gambling are given substantial tax breaks if the providers of the gambling services are Spanish. If the providers are foreign companies then the Spanish winners have to pay full taxes. So big is the difference in the two tax rates that it does not make sense for Spanish nationals to place wagers with foreign companies. The Spanish Government has offered the excuse that the tax breaks apply only in the case of charitable organizations and events. But it is not willing to offer the same concessions to foreign charitable organizations and events.

Michel Barnier has a difficult task to perform. Barnier hails from France and his own country is at loggerheads with the EC. Some industry watchers are waiting to see if this will effect the implementation of the unified online gambling regime by the EC.

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