MEPs oppose open online gambling market

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On Tuesday, Members of the European Parliament rejected the idea of creating a single EU market for online gambling in a vote of 544 to 36 with 66 abstentions.

By voting to adopt a nonbinding resolution on the integrity of online gambling at its Strasbourg plenary, the European Parliament essentially came down in favor of European Union member states regulating online gambling individually.

The alternative minority opinion, drafted by the Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee, argued that gambling is an economic activity that should fall under the same rules that protect the freedom to provide services across the EU.

The report also argued that the dangers of online gambling, such as addiction, are unproven.

The final resolution adopted by the MEPs underlined that member states have the right to regulate their culture-specific gambling structures. Online gambling operators will have to comply with gambling legislation of the member state in which they provide their services.

This seems to be the opposite of the stance the European Commission has been taking on online gambling. (The European Parliament is a component of the EU's legislative branch, whereas the Commission is the EU's executive arm.)

The EC has been working to get several EU member states to change their online gambling laws and policies to open up the market in the EU.

Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association, said the new resolution adopted by the MEPS won't lead to any early legislative changes, so the EC can be expected to keep up the pressure on the 10 states it already is taking action against.

"The real damage is a reputational one because the IMCO (Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection) report perpetuates so many negative myths about online gambling," Hawkswood said.

That is why when the report came out the RGA pushed to have a minority resolution produced as well, to show that the report did not represent a consensus of all those on IMCO.

"The vote was a foregone conclusion because most of those voting would have done so along party lines without ever having glanced at the report," Hawkswood said.

"It has to be remembered that most IMCO members represent constituencies where there are state monopolies, and so that was always going to influence them. But even so, the lack of objectivity was frightening."

While the resolution may not change legislation right away, the European Gaming and Betting Association believes that the most likely course of action to come out of it will be the establishment of a European Code of conduct to ensure EU licensed operators abide to a common and consistent set of responsible standards.

"[Tuesday's] vote shows that we cannot expect an EU harmonized legislation to be adopted in the near future," said Sigrid Ligne, EGBA secretary general.

"This clearly means that it is the rules of the Treaty and the case law of the Court of Justice that continue to apply and that will prevail for our sector in the years to come."

Hawkswood said there is a huge lobbying effort on behalf of the online gambling industry in the European Union.

However, the reality is that there are probably no more than four EU states that have anything like a private sector industry, whereas there are more than 20 members still defending their monopolies and domestic operators.

"We will of course keep campaigning for the rights of our members but the reality is that effective change will only be achieved when more member states introduce their own licensing regimes," Hawkswood said.

"Pressure from Brussels is helping, but more and more [countries] are recognizing the potential economic benefits of establishing their own online gambling industries. Because of this we are increasingly working with local policy makers and regulators around the EU rather than focusing solely on Brussels."


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