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EU Members Discuss Online Gambling

By: Adam Baker, Thursday September 8th 2011
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The fragmented regulatory approach in Europe with each member state deciding how it wants to go on online gambling has complicated issues. There are court actions by online gambling companies against state owned monopolies and also impending European Commission (EC) infringement actions. This week there was a conference of European Union (EU) parliamentarians and industry representatives with the objective of finding a way ahead.

Though representatives of many member nations paid lip service to harmonized legislation across the EU, they qualified it with a rider that individual member states should not be prevented enacting rules that suit their national interests. German liberal MEP Creutzmann, who will be drawing up the European Parliament's response to the Green Paper consultative initiative, has voiced this opinion. He said that member states should be able to decide how to regulate online gambling themselves. The only concession he made to harmonization was a proposed obligation for national regulators to keep each other informed on their policies, and to communicate incidents of fraud or the revocation of licenses.

Steffano Mallia, responsible for formulating the European Economic and Social Committee's response to the Green Paper, said, "I want an EU-wide framework that offers a minimum not low level of protection for consumers. But member states should be able to go further if they want." He suggested the creation of a Europe-wide "safe and acceptable" list of properly licensed operators and advocated determined enforcement actions against illegal operators. He also pointed out the economic benefits of regulating online gambling.

On the other hand industry spokespersons were clearly for a strong uniform regulatory initiative simultaneously across all member states. They pointed out that unnecessary financial burdens were imposed when operators had to get licenses from different national regulatory authorities by duplicating identical processes. Sigrid Ligne, secretary-general of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), said that operators had to pay about €8.7 million to receive a license in France. If the same process is to be repeated in all 27 member states the costs would be mind boggling. She suggested the use of the guidelines published by CEN for common European standards.

Both, Harri Syvesalmi the director for sport in the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and Philippe Vlaemminck a partner at Brussels-based law firm Altius, referred to the numerous legal cases in the EU courts. They pointed out that such litigation could be avoided if politicians got together and framed a consistent gambling policy with unambiguous rules.

The road ahead is evidently long. In the first step the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee will formulate their formal responses to the Commission's Green Paper in October. The EU executive will then study all the responses and decide whether to table draft legislation for harmonized regulation of online gambling in Europe. The response of the EU will come possibly sometime in 2012.

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