The Eca welcomes the European Commission’s communication on online gambling

The Eca welcomes the European Commission’s communication on online gambling

ECA logoThe European Casino Association (ECA) welcomes the Communication “Towards a comprehensive European framework for online gambling” presented yesterday evening by the European Commission, as it clearly outlines the Commission’s plan of action to effectively supervise and tackle the consumer protection and fraud issues linked to online gambling. Due to the lack of direct contact between the consumer and the operator and the potential danger of developing a gambling problem linked to the omnipresence of the games on the internet, online gambling presents its own particular set of risks. Internet gambling is also clearly more vulnerable to criminal activities and a higher risk of fraud.

With this Communication, the Commission’s key goals are to help the Member States to effectively regulate online gambling in line with their own national traditions but also in compliance with the European Treaty, and to effectively protect consumers and citizens. The ECA looks forward to proactively participating in this process, particularly as the traditional land-based casinos have extensive experience in complying with strict national regulations and obligations.

Commenting on this topic, ECA Chairman Ron Goudsmit said that: “there is a clear need and call for clarity from all interested stakeholders, specifically on the issues related to the different consumer protection measures in place in the Member States.” However, Mr. Goudsmit also added that “although all stakeholders from both the land-based and the online worlds talk about consumer protection, understand its importance, and have a very detailed opinion of what should be done to address consumer protection concerns, it would appear that only the land-based gambling industry is actually implementing consumer protection measures.”

Mr. Goudsmit also expressed his growing concern about the illegal gambling activities across the Member States, stating that “illegal operators must be stopped, as it is inadmissible that so many online operators, some even based in the EU, continue to operate illegally in other European countries without a valid license. This while EU case law makes it so clear that every operator needs a valid national license in order to operate legally, be properly supervised and controlled”. Regulators need to have a clear picture and record of the number of operators, scope and supply of services, operator assets and revenue streams in each jurisdiction.

One of the main issues raised in the Communication is the fact that there is so little reliable information available on the online gambling industry. As Goudsmit explained: “there is still no audited and independent data available from online operators on their financial revenues, compliance with responsible gaming standards, money flows, etc. The EU will not be able to launch any coherent initiative without access to audited and independent data on the online gambling sector, which, as is emphasized in the European Parliament report on online gambling adopted in November 2011 and in this EC Communication, is currently so clearly lacking.” The ECA would like to encourage the Commission to launch a data research process to gather neutral and audited data.

The ECA welcomes the fact that the Communication reiterates the subsidiarity principle. Given the specific associated health risks, gambling is an activity of a special nature, and the ECA stresses the need to control this activity with a view to ensuring the proper protection of consumers, particularly the most vulnerable ones, and to prevent money laundering activities. In this respect, the ECA also welcomes the announcement to consider broadening the scope of the Anti-Money Laundering Directive to include online gambling operators, since it currently only applies to land-based casinos.

Since gambling is such a sensitive activity, the ECA urges the Commission to continue taking a step-by-step approach, thus allowing and providing the necessary time to exchange best practices, learn from each Member State’s experiences and base any upcoming initiatives on a thorough assessment of the market and regulatory realities. It is therefore crucial that the Member States are part of the policy shaping process both in their own right and through the European Parliament and Council. To this effect, the ECA applauds the EC’s action point to “establish an expert group on gambling, composed of representatives of Member States, to exchange experiences and good practices as well as to provide advice and expertise on the preparation of EU initiatives” in 2012.

The ECA would like to congratulate the European Commission for deploying particular efforts in delivering this Communication and outlining the fundamental questions that have to be addressed. Moreover, the ECA welcomes the European Commission’s acknowledgement that online gambling is a global issue that requires an in depth analysis of the market realities and developments.

The ECA will fully engage in the next EU policy steps and hopes that this Communication will lead to more legal certainty for all interested parties.