By Michel Barnier - 9th November 2012
As the largest market for online gambling it is essential that Europe protects the most vulnerable users of the internet , writes Michel Barnier.
Europe is the largest market for online gambling, one of the most rapidly expanding commercial activities on the internet. With nearly seven million users in the EU, the revenue from online gambling is expected to reach €13bn by 2015.
As the EU commissioner in charge of online services, I believe that the size and special nature of this market means that its regulation and supervision must go hand in hand with societal considerations, to protect consumers and avoid fraud and match-fixing in sports.
Due to the fast development of technology, online gambling is now available not only on computers, but also via mobile phones and TVs; around 15,000 sites are accessible in Europe. But over 85 per cent of these are unlicensed, bringing with them the dangers of fraud, money laundering and gambling-related disorders such as addiction.
At my initiative, the European commission held a thorough public consultation on online gambling last year. What we found is that although national governments have the same objectives of protecting consumers and preventing fraud, they cannot effectively regulate or respond to the challenges posed by online gambling individually. They cannot ensure the high level of protection from the risks of unregulated online gambling that every EU citizen deserves. Furthermore, a culture of cooperation between the gambling regulatory authorities is lacking or is too limited in scope. Yet the challenges faced are common to all countries, and regulators can learn from one another by sharing good practices.
Looking at all this, I want to foster a more cohesive policy for online gambling in the EU. This is why, on October 23, I launched a communication setting out our vision for a safer online gambling market in Europe. We could not have reached this stage without cooperation from the European parliament. Our work was fed by two reports adopted by the parliament, by rapporteurs Jürgen Creutzmann and Christel Schaldemose, and I would like to salute the work of the internal market and consumer protection committee, which has been particularly active in this debate. We have seen the negative consequences of poorly regulated markets before and do not want to see this happen again in the area of online gambling. Members of the European parliament have been calling for stronger consumer protection and the commission is listening, and taking action.
I am not proposing an EU-wide law on online gambling. What I am proposing is a comprehensive set of actions and common principles of protection. There are certain key groups that we must take special care to protect: these are our children and other vulnerable groups. Since 75 per cent of EU citizens under the age of 17 uses the internet, I want to encourage the development and use of better age-verification tools and online content filters. I will also push for more responsible advertising, and increased parental awareness of the dangers associated with gambling.
Another objective is to prevent and deter fraud and money-laundering through online gambling. Due to the cross-border nature of online gambling, individual member states cannot successfully apply anti-fraud mechanisms. An approach that brings together the EU, member states, and industry is necessary to tackle the problem effectively from all angles.
A similar level of cooperation is necessary to safeguard the integrity of sports. Betting-related match-fixing goes against the very nature of fair play and competition that defines sport. To combat it, the commission will promote greater cooperation at national and international level between stakeholders, operators, and regulators to preserve the integrity of our sports, as well as better education and increased awareness of sportspeople. Personally, I am in favour of prohibiting betting on games with youngsters, and I also want to look into prohibiting betting by players and staff of sports teams when there is a conflict of interest.
To accomplish these ambitious goals we need to take a number of important steps: crack down on sites which are not regulated in any manner, develop legal alternatives that are attractive enough and take measures to ensure that the growth of the online gambling market is safe and supervised. The commission will be working with member states and the European parliament to implement the many measures put forward. But it will also be monitoring progress and evaluating the effectiveness of these measures. And if they prove insufficient I will not hesitate to come forward with additional initiatives.
Michel Barnier is European internal market and services commissioner