The EU must protect its citizens from online gambling addiction and money laundering, warns Sirpa Pietikäinen.
This year, online gambling has become a big issue in the EU. Currently, online providers have very little responsibility with regard to the welfare of the customer. As a comparison, a business that sells climbing services would be obligated to ensure the safety of the customer by providing safety equipment such as a helmet and a mat.
Currently online gambling has no such measures. Gambling isn’t so different to other hazardous consumption pleasures, such as alcohol or smoking. We know that it’s not necessarily good for us but some of us find it pleasurable and like to do it once in a while. However, like these other goods, gambling can be addictive. Therefore, I think it is better that these things are available officially, rather than undercover, as it means that we can oversee legislation to help keep our citizens safe. Online gambling gives customers a lot of freedom, you can gamble at any time and, currently, under any name, therefore there is a lot more potential to act irresponsibly. It can also be susceptible to money laundering, and although we do have legislation on it I think that measures could be taken to help the EU to prevent the problem.
I think the EU needs legally binding legislation. It should require all online gambling service providers to be registered or based in the EU, so we know that legitimate businesses are running the websites, rather than criminals. There should also be compulsory ‘waterproof ’ identification of customers, so that there are proper and traceable identification tools available. Customers should also use one European bank account through which money comes and goes. This is needed to tackle illegal activities, money laundering and addictions. Before finalising registration, customers should also be required to set a limit on their spending to prevent them spending over the initially set money limits at a later date. Available customer information should also be checked and circulated to other gambling websites.
Of course, we shouldn’t prohibit people from using several banking accounts or from registering with several sites, but if people are correctly registered it will be easier to notice if something untoward is going on. Online gambling is an important issue and these are just some of the measures that could help us to combat addiction and money laundering. I am pleased that the EU is taking steps to help protect its consumers.
Sirpa Pietikäinen is vice-chair of parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee