By Ashley Fox - 9th November 2012
Currently, approximately seven million Europeans access the services of the online gambling industry
MEPs must ensure that the European commission implements its action plan and creates a safe, legal and fair market for online gambling, urges Ashley Fox.
Last month, the European commission revealed a new action plan for the online gambling industry which seeks to protect consumers, increase transparency, reduce market fragmentation and provide procedural integrity to the sports involved.
Following years of regulatory limbo for the industry, with only limited legislative instruments being used by the commission, this communication is hopefully a stepping stone towards a true single online gambling market that can fully benefit from the freedom of services and freedom of establishment.
I welcome the proposal which appears to be a genuine attempt to address some of the core issues affecting both the industry and consumers.
Currently, approximately seven million Europeans access the services of the online gambling industry. It is one of the fastest growing service activities in the EU, growing at around 15 per cent each year with an estimated €13bn in revenue. Therefore, it is incredibly important that the commission takes the lead in identifying those areas that could be subject to common licensing requirements, as well as encouraging member states to cooperate effectively on key issues, such as consumer protection, the prevention of money laundering and sport corruption.
I am also pleased to see that European internal market commissioner Michel Barnier will take steps to ensure that all member states are fully compliant with EU law in order to have an effective single market for operators and consumers who are providing and accessing cross border services.
At present the online gambling market is fragmented. Member states operate different licensing policies, sometimes restricting supply to consumers and protecting monopolies, which in turn open the door to black-market operators that are unregulated and unsafe. Therefore it is important that the commission fulfils its role as guardian of the treaties and makes it clear that member states cannot break EU rules without facing legal repercussions.
In addition, the commission has laid out important steps to ensure that minors and vulnerable users are protected from the potential dangers associated with gambling. EU operators are already subject to strong national licensing requirements to prevent minors from accessing their websites. It is encouraging to see the commission championing the development of better age-verification techniques, content filters and advertising standards, as well as pushing research into the underlying causes of gambling addiction to better inform industry practices.
Furthermore, the commission’s communication proposes to extend the scope of the anti-money laundering directive. . This should in principle provide greater legal clarity and a level playing field whereby all types of gambling activities will be subject to anti-money laundering rules. The action plan also offers recommendations of best practices against match fixing, promotes international cooperation, urging member states to set up and finance adequate contact points in order to combat betting related match-fixing.
In conclusion, the commission has provided a solid framework that will hopefully pave the way for the harmonisation of online gambling services within the single market and which will both protect consumers and benefit the industry as a whole.
It is now time for parliament to do its work to ensure that the commission fulfils its promises and implements the action plan effectively. As a member of parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee, I will be paying close attention to this issue to ensure that there is a true single market for online gaming which is safe, legal and fair.
Ashley Fox is parliament's shadow rapporteur on online gambling in the internal market