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EU Commissioner Writes On Online Gambling

By: Joan Peppin, Tuesday October 23rd 2012
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The EU Commissioner Michele Barnier has published an article in The Times of Malta newspaper today titled “Make Online Gambling Safe”. The industry is viewing this as the forerunner of the EC’s action report on online gambling scheduled for release later today. Unfortunately Barnier’s article does not contain anything new, which does not create any enthusiasm for the action plan.

Barnier begins by pointing out that Europe is the largest and most rapidly expanding global market for online gambling, with nearly seven million users and revenues expected to reach €13 billion by 2015. Online gambling is available on computers, mobile phones and TVs through about 15,000 sites. Over 85% of these are unlicensed, exposing users to fraud, money laundering and problem gambling.

Based on the EC consultation on online gambling carried out last year, Barnier said that national governments face the same objectives of protecting consumers and preventing fraud. But because of the borderless nature of the pursuit, they cannot effectively regulate online gambling on an individual basis. Barnier also expressed unhappiness at the lack of cooperation among national gambling regulators, which prevented the establishment of effective pan European regulation.

It is with this background that Barnier revealed a preview of the EC action plan. He believed that a European framework for online gambling was essential. He proposed a comprehensive set of actions and common principles of protection. But he backed away from creating an EU-wide law on online gambling. This refusal to bite the bullet will disappoint the industry that has waited for over 18 months for this action plan.

Then Barnier moved on to details of consumer protection. He identified children as the most vulnerable group because 75% of EU citizens under the age of 17 use the Internet. The EC will be encouraging the development of better age-verification tools, online content filters and more responsible advertising in this regard. The second group identified by Barnier was that of problem gamblers. Barnier said that regulators had a responsibility to protect those citizens, and their families, who already suffer from gambling addiction. Here the EC will advocate finding effective methods of treatment and cure and a better understanding of the underlying causes of problem gambling. With reference to the regular online gamblers, Barnier singled out preventing fraud as a key objective. Here cooperation between Member States would be of utmost importance. The integrity of sports was also an important objective. Betting related match fixing goes against the very nature of fair play and competition that defines sport according to Barnier.

The actual action plan would include cracking down on unregulated sites, developing legal alternatives that are attractive enough and taking measures to ensure that the growth of the online gambling market is safe and supervised. The EC would implement measures ultimately approved by the European Parliament and would monitor progress and evaluate the effectiveness of these measures.

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