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European Gambling Policy Conference

By: Ryan Alders, Wednesday July 6th 2011
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Some time back the European Commission (EC) decided to prepare a green paper on the state of the online gambling industry in Europe prior to deciding the way forward. It had asked interested parties to provide their inputs as a part of the consultative process. The deadline for providing these inputs is now just a month away and time is running out for those who have yet to respond. Meanwhile a number of speakers voiced their opinions at the European Gambling Policy Conference in Brussels last week.

European Union (EU) politician J. Creutzmann was one of the rapporteurs for the green paper. He said that Europe-wide regulation of the online gambling industry is the only solution for clearing the current confusion in the fragmented European market. National regulation will not work in the market that is still growing.

The same opinion has been cited by industry executives, observers and representative trade bodies like the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA). The lack of cohesion on regulations between the Member States and the EU contributes to an increase in costs, fraud and unlicensed gambling. EGBA has pointed out fragmentation of a single industry into 27 small independent national markets, with their own varying taxes and fees, adds to the cost of operation making it unviable. This discourages law-abiding and responsible companies from entering such markets thereby leaving the door open to less reputable unlicensed operators. In the end it will be the player who will suffer.

Antonio Costanzo, director of Sport Integrity and Regulation, said at the Brussels conference the overregulation also drives players to unregulated markets like China. Costanzo pointed out that harmonized EU regulation of the industry would help eliminate sports corruption by increasing enforcement of this largely unregulated pastime. Citing an example he said that match fixing was a criminal offence in Spain and the United Kingdom but not in Bulgaria. MEP Simon Busettil was of the opinion that it was because the EU failed to take substantive action upfront that the task of regulation has fallen on the national governments.

Taking the opposite stand MEP Christel Schaldemose presented an alternative motivation for the current fragmentation of the online gambling industry in Europe. She said, "Many Member States do not want the EU to regulate in this area because they want to keep the money where it is." She added that some Member States did not want large gambling markets because of religious reasons. The representative of the Association of Charity Lotteries confirmed this view. He said that today the online gambling was being conducted by state owned bodies that supported charities with their profits. He feared that after EU powered regulation the private operators would move in, leaving the charities high and dry.

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