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Online Gambling Industry Reacts To Belgian Detention

By: Fabian Rictor, Tuesday November 20th 2012
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Last Tuesday Norbert Teufelberger, the co-chief executive of digital entertainment, was detained by the Belgian Gambling Commission and questioned for two hours. Though there were protests against this action in the media the online gambling industry waited a while so as to give a considered and collective response to this intimidation. The response was in the form of a letter to the Financial Times. Incidentally, it was in this newspaper that journalist Jonathan Guthrie had written a scathing article immediately after the detention.

The letter was written by Michael Carlton, the chief executive of Victor Chandler International on behalf of himself and some of the top executives and owners of the leading online gaming firms operating in Europe. The companies were bet365, Betclic Everest Group, Winamax, Gamesys, Stan James, 888 Holdings, Sportingbet, digital entertainment, Betsson, William Hill and 32Red. One of the most high profile signatories to the letter was Denise Coates of bet365 who was on Her Majesty’s honor list earlier this year.

The letter first pointed out that the detention of Teufelberger took place “a stone’s throw” from the office of the European Parliament where Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for internal market and services, operates from. This proximity was “a stark reminder of the legal uncertainty that prevails in the European online gaming market”. Another important point in the letter was that though the Belgian authorities felt free to intimidate the online gaming groups that challenged their domestic gambling laws, they have maintained a total silence on the concerns raised by the European Commission on these very laws. These concerns were raised in the detailed opinion of the European Commission as far back as in 2009.

The letter then went on to target the European Commission for not acting on the direct complaint lodged against Belgium in 2010. When Commissioner Barnier assumed office there was fresh hope raised in the online gambling industry. Barnier had accepted that compliance of national law with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is a prerequisite for a successful policy on online gambling. He had assured that if blatant infringements persisted then his office would launch appropriate proceedings. The leaders of the online gambling companies now have asked Barnier to deliver on his promise. The letter ends thus, “The time for polite rhetoric is now over. It is time for deeds not words.”

Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of trade body the Remote Gambling Association, was more scathing in his attack on the inaction from the European Commission. He said that because of this inaction member states were being encouraged to act in protectionist manner more frequently. He pointed out that last week Bulgaria introduced an unviable 15% tax on gambling companies’ turnover. Hawkswood summarized the situation as follows: “Member states appear to see the commission as a dog that rarely barks and never bites at all.”

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