Prominent European politicians and gambling operators joined the debate on the liberalisation of EU gambling markets this week as the European Parliament prepared to vote on a largely negative own-initiative report on the 'integrity' of online gambling submitted last year by Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose. The report has been opposed by Britain and Malta.
Speaking at a "Fair Play for Gambling" breakfast discussion chaired by MEP Malcolm Harbour, a former top European judge opined that politicians "lacked courage" in efforts to clarify gambling's legal status. He pointed out that traditionally gambling has been regulated at member state level, and that politicians had been remiss in not formally clarifiying the position of gambling, and in failing to introduce a common EU-wide code applicable to all member nations.
Speaking in the EU Parliament Thursday, Professor Siegbert Alber criticised the commission's approach, saying, "It is a pity the commission does not have the courage to propose rules in this sector but would rather wait for court rulings."
Alber, a former advocate-general at the European Court of Justice, told the discussion group that there was currently a backlog of ten such [free movement of goods and services] cases which are currently awaiting judgement, reports Parliament.com.
Alber was equally critical of member states, saying: "They currently have the discretion to regulate in this field but this represents a restriction on the freedom to provide services in the internal market and, to date, member states have failed to justify such a restriction."
Chairing the discussion, MEP Malcolm Harbour said he supported the idea of an impact assessment exercise and further research being carried out on the possible consequences of liberalisation of the market.
"I would also urge the commission and member states to make some progress on this issue," he added.
His party colleague, Emmanouil Angelakas, meanwhile, said he would press for the creation of a parliamentary intergroup to study "all aspects" of the issue after June's European elections.
Konstantinos Maragkakis from Stanleybet International, emphasised the differences between the idea of a liberalised market as compared to a regulated market, denying that a more open arrangement would create a “free for all” or dry up streams of revenue for state lottery projects, and saying it is “an issue of policies not control.”
He made the point that attempts to characterise all private companies as bad are contradicted by the fact that such companies often showed great integrity. He also argued against the school of thought that current moves could lead to an increase in match fixing, citing the UK as an excellent example of a well regulated, open market.
Maragkakis was supported by Stanleybet's deputy director-general Adrian Morris, who told Parliament.com that there was a clear need for "more data on the size and structure of the gambling market" across Europe. Morris said he doubted that an opening up of national gambling markets would see member state monopolies lose significant revenues.
"Lotteries and sports betting are different markets, I doubt there would be a lot of revenue lost," he said.
Sigrid Ligne, the Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association, which represents many large European betting groups, called for a European code of conduct to help regulate the industry.
“There should be some sort of regulation and I think the best option is to do it at EU level," she said. "The problem is that there is no momentum and nor does there appear to be any consensus in the European parliament. We are fed up with court rulings but, if necessary, will continue to defend our position in the courts.”