Earlier this week eCOGRA, the leading standards and player protection body in the online gaming industry, released a study comparing the benchmarks used by European government gambling monopolies with those of private-sector gaming and betting operators.
The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) counts as members some of Europe's largest online gaming operators, such as PartyGaming, bwin, Digibet, Bet-at-home.com, Unibet and Interwetten.
It promotes the right of private gaming and betting operators that are regulated and licensed in one member state to fair market access throughout the European Union, and it commissioned the eCOGRA study in May 2008.
eCOGRA took a look at responsible gaming practices as implemented by 10 of the largest land-based gambling monopolies in Europe and compared them with similar practices in place for online operators belonging to the private industry trade group.
According to eCOGRA's results, among the private operators, a full 67% of consumer protection practices either match or exceed the policies of government monopolies. Just 4% of the EGBA members' consumer protection practices were deemed to be lower than those of government monopolies.
The remaining 29% of practices could not be compared to the government monopolies' due to insufficient information or inapplicability.
"This study shows us that there are lessons to be learned by both the monopolies as well as the private sector," said Sigirid Ligné, secretary general of the EGBA. "However, it also clearly dismisses the argument that private sector companies are failing to provide consumers with similar levels of protection and responsible gaming practices.
"In fact the evidence shows that it is the private sector that is leading the field in this important area and results are a testament to the major commitment and strong leadership of EGBA operators towards developing a comprehensive and consistent package of responsible gaming practices."
The study examined how well each gambling operator scored on a number of measures:
- policies to promote responsible gaming and to prevent underage or problem gaming
- commitment to responsible and ethical marketing practices
- measures to assess game fairness rigorously and independently
- zero tolerance for fraudulent and criminal behavior
The eCOGRA press release announcing the results of the study noted that just over one in five of the consumer protection standards adopted by private-sector gaming providers could not be accurately compared to the standards of government monopolies due to a lack of information about the monopolies' practices or simple inaccessibility on the part of the monopolies.
This suggests that the private online operators are far more transparent in the realm of consumer protection standards than their land-based government monopoly competition.
The EGBA's voluntarily adopted standards were set out in a nine-point document that covers a wide variety of customer protection measures. That document was an expansion of a 2003 Code of Conduct adopted by members of the organization then known as the EBA.
"Self-regulation in the online gaming sector is an important tool and great complement to formal regulation," said Andrew Beveridge, CEO of eCOGRA. "Legislators should seek to draw upon the considerable and effective efforts made by the private sector and promote similar initiatives throughout the EU."
"I am confident that this study will improve the understanding of all stakeholders throughout Europe on the important issue of consumer protection and responsible gaming," added Ligné. "From now on, it will provide a valuable reference for those making political decisions about the future of online gaming at EU as well as at a national level."
Online gaming currently only accounts for about 10% of the total market in Europe, but the growth in revenues for online providers has outstripped that of European land-based gaming operators. Many of those operators are monopolies granted by the governments of individual European nations that predate the European Union.