European Parliament Adopts Resolution on Online Gambling

MEDIA ROOM

Increased cooperation between member states on issues of consumer protection and money laundering are two of the main aspects of a resolution on online gambling, approved by the European Parliament earlier today.The online gambling industry provides a significant contribution to Malta’s GDP, with more than 7,000 people employed directly or indirectly, 240 registered companies and more than 400 operating licences.

A public dialogue on the subject will be held at Europe House in Valletta on Friday 20 September. The event, which will include an expert overview of the European Parliament’s position, a panel debate with the industry and interventions by MEPs, is being organised by the European Parliament Information Office in Malta and the Malta Business Bureau.

The resolution, approved by 572 votes to 79, with 61 abstentions, is Parliament’s reply to a roadmap entitled ‘Towards a comprehensive European framework for online gambling’, which the European Commission adopted last October.

The report, by MEP Ashley Fox, acknowledges that gambling is an activity of a special nature and must be accompanied by strong consumer protection measures as well as improved cooperation among member states to combat fraud, money laundering and match-fixing in sports, while respecting the subsidiarity principle.

Among other things MEPs call on the Commission and the member states to look into the possibility of setting up EU-wide ‘self-exclusion registers’, personal loss or time limits, so that any customer who wishes to exclude him or herself from gambling or who surpasses his gambling limits at one gambling operator, will have the opportunity to be automatically self-excluded from other licensed gambling operators.

They also recommend the introduction of uniform common systems for electronic identification to prevent minors from accessing online gambling websites and prevent multiple accounts per player. To make it easy for players to distinguish safe and legal sites, MEPs invite member states to oblige operators to carry a visible ‘trust mark’ or logo of the regulatory authority.

George Debrincat, chair of the online gambling section at the Chamber of Commerce, commented on the resolution: “It is interesting to note that the report underlines what existing regulators and the EU-licensed industry have acknowledged for years, including the need to ensure fair gaming and betting products, high responsible gaming standards and consumer protection, prevention of money laundering and other criminal activity, the right to privacy, as well as the need to keep up to speed with technical developments.”

He added: “We especially welcome the call on the Commission to launch infringement proceedings against member states whose gambling legislation does not comply with EU law.”

Debrincat pointed out that certain cases date back to 2006 and says that action is already long overdue. With member states re-regulating their local markets, the need to create legal certainty is as great as ever.

Debrincat said a few points show that there are still prejudices relating to the online industry, such as ‘the dangers of the internet’. “There is no evidence indicating that the online environment presents higher risks than land-based services. On the contrary, it offers a unique opportunity to detect problem gamblers and it enables an offer of responsible gaming tools such as self-assessment tests, budgets and self-exclusion,” he explained.

He also referred to the call for enforcement measures against “illegal operators”, saying that no difference is made between EU operators and others. For instance, there was no mention that Maltese operators are licensed by the Lotteries and Gaming Authority and undergo exhaustive corporate due diligence and operational audits, Debrincat said. Neither does the report reflect on whether enforcement measures such as blockings are actually effective, he added.

“It would have been beneficial if the report had recognised to a larger extent the importance of market reality and consumer choice. In the online environment, the more attractive and cheaper offer is only a click away for customers,” he pointed out, adding that, as has been recognised by European Commission and the Commissioner for the Internal Market, the development of an attractive range of legal gambling opportunities is therefore key to effectively channel consumers to the regulated offer.