Malta Defends Gaming Industry

MEDIA ROOM

As published by The Times of Malta, Malta was the only European Union member state to object to an EU presidency initiative to frame a common definition for “illegal gambling”. However, despite Malta’s opposition, EU competition ministers still agreed on a common position taking the first step towards possible European collaboration in this area.

Meeting in Brussels, ministers discussed the Spanish presidency report and reached agreement on a definition, perhaps preparing the ground for a legal framework on gambling and betting in the EU.

EU ministers agreed to define illegal gambling as “gambling in which operators do not comply with the national law of the country where services are offered, provided those national laws are in compliance with EU treaty principles.”

In the past years Malta has become heavily reliant on revenues flowing from its regulatory activities in internet gambling and has previously been supported by the UK, arguing that gambling is an economic activity like any other, and that EU rules on freedom of services in the internal market are applicable.

A government spokesman told The Times yesterday that although Malta made it clear during the meeting that the Spanish progress report represents a relatively well-balanced view of the current gaming situation in the EU, it couldn’t subscribe to the definition of illegal gambling as proposed by the presidency as this will apply the concept of illegality to operators who may have been licensed by one member states and not by another.

“For this reason, Malta considers that the suggested definition does not factually reflect current circumstances and recent developments,” the spokesman said.

In a statement included in the conclusions of the Competitiveness Council meeting, Malta stated that “it has one of the most advanced regulatory regimes and this is in full compliance with EU legislation.”

“The checks and controls exercised by Malta ensure the integrity of the operations conducted in or from Malta. Hence, while defining illegal gambling due consideration must also be given to such advanced regulatory regimes,” Malta said.

European Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier announced in February that the EU executive would seek a more coherent way to address the issue of cross border gaming in the Union.

To this end, Mr Barnier said the Commission will launch a public consultation on the issue with a Green Paper due to be presented in the autumn of 2010. Specific proposals to tackle illegal gambling could follow afterwards.

Member states have not been consulted on gambling since they decided to leave the issue out of the Services Directive in 2006.

The Spanish presidency report stressed that the rulings of the European Court of Justice “require member states to start a constructive debate and an exchange of views on the concept of illegal gambling.”

These latest developments are considered to be quite important in light of attempts by online gambling companies licensed in EU member states to gain access to gamblers in other member states on grounds of EU principles on free movement of services, which have resulted in a number of legal actions.