Against unfair competition and equal opportunities between operators. This is the European recipe from the Euromat’s leader, Annette Kok, like she explained in an interview granted to Gioco News Politically, 2011 was a very important year for the European gaming market in large part due to the interest of Commissioner Barnier. Do you feel important results were achieved?
“Indeed, 2011 has been a very important but also quite challenging year for the European gaming industry. As you know, the political discussion around our industry was essentially initiated at the European level by the publication of the long-awaited European Commission’s Green Paper on Online Gambling in the Internal Market at the end of March. But, very important was also the European Parliament’s resolution adopted by the whole of the European Parliament last November. In Euromat we certainly welcomed the arrival of both initiatives and our Federation has been working particularly hard to ensure that the interests’ of the land-based gambling sector were taken into account in this debate. The legal gambling market, and in particular the highly regulated and highly taxed land-based sector, is currently exposed to an unbearable degree of illegal cross-border competition from online gambling operators that are providing their services without a licence, without paying taxes and without meeting any sort of minimum regulatory requirements to ensure a proper consumer protection. It was necessary to have an open debate about how to address this problem in order to effectively regulate this part of the market. Important results have undeniably been achieved, but the work is far from being done. Member States still need to find a way to ensure a proper enforcement of rules for the online gambling sector and ultimately achieve a level playing field across the gambling arena to guarantee the commercial viability of the land-based gambling sector, which -we must not forget- is an important part of any national economy and a major contributor to a state’s revenues”.
Do you believe that a Green Paper on land-based gambling could be envisioned for the future?
“There is absolutely no need for any sort of ‘EU’ action when it comes to the land-based gambling sector. We should not forget that gambling is a field in which there are significant social and cultural specificities and which is therefore, and rightfully so, regulated at national level. It is important to respect the principle of subsidiarity, as Member States are unquestionably in a better position to regulate their own gambling markets. In fact, the land-based gambling sector is already a highly regulated, highly taxed sector with strict requirements when it comes to consumer protection. For more than 30 years our industry has proven that it is possible to effectively operate and collaborate within national regulatory frameworks, while guaranteeing the protection of our consumers. Hence, without the cross-border element, that is obvious in the online sector, there is not really any added value from an EU approach. Fortunately enough, the EU institutions seem to clearly understand and support this view”.
Which are the most critical issues that remain to be resolved?
“As I mentioned before, it is necessary to tackle the illegal cross-border competition from online gambling operators. For this, national regulators need to ensure proper enforcement of rules for the online gambling sector. Amongst other things, because the online gambling sector, if not properly regulated, may involve a greater risk of addiction than traditional physical, location based-gambling. Therefore, any eventual legislative exercise concerning online gambling must apply responsible gambling principles in order to guarantee an adequate level of consumer protection. Measures to combat other problems, such as fraud and money laundering are also essential. We also need to make something very clear: online gambling is nothing but the most recent method through which already existing gambling services are distributed. Our members can no longer compete under such unfair circumstances. If this situation persists it will unfortunately be consequently also in detriment of national economies”.
Do you foresee opportunites for growth in the European gambling market?
“People love to gamble. It’s one of the oldest forms of entertainment and it will continue to exist. However, we are living extremely difficult financial times and this will consequently reflect in more limited growth opportunities for the gambling market. In times when developed countries are struggling to overcome the financial crisis, people are also more aware -and careful- with the way they spend their money. Gambling will certainly not be one of their priorities when allocating their household budgets. On top of things, the land-based gambling sector has another challenge. In order to actually foster any potential growth for our industry, it is necessary to ensure parity of rules for all gambling services providers. Without a fair and adequate taxation regime and without ensuring that all operators meet the same regulatory requirements, and that these requirements are properly enforced, it will not be possible for many in the land-based gambling sector to survive”.
What is your impression regarding the Italian gaming market from an outsider’s perspective?
“The Italian gaming market is one of the largest markets in Europe. I understand the Aams, the Italian regulator, is working hard to set clear rules and achieve maximum transparency. Euromat is one of the chief advocates of responsible gambling and we believe that the responsibility to create and adopt effective programmes directed at the protection of consumers lies firstly with the gambling industry but should be a joint effort with national and local regulators, other stakeholders and the customers. We therefore are supportive of the fact that the Aams has put legal and responsible gaming, as well as the fight against illegal gambling, at the core of its strategy. Moreover, the Italian authorities are being quite succesful in their fight against unlawful internet gambling. It is the European Commission’s aim to strenghten the cooperation between national regulators. Italy should certainly be taken as an example of best practices and succesful enforcement of rules”.