Gaming council frustrated that island representatives did not play a more active role

The recent non-binding vote in the EU Parliament on the Schaldemose own-initiative report (see previous InfoPowa report) has resulted in some critical fallout for Malta' 5 MEPs.

The non-binding vote approved the concept that the regulation of online gambling in Europe should be left to the individual member states instead of hewing to a pan-European set of regulations. The vote effectively suggests that for Internet gambling, the broad EU principle of free movement of goods and services between member nations should not apply.

An alternative report prepared by British MEP Malcolm Harbour was defeated, and it is the Malta MEPs treatment of this report which has triggered the ire of the Malta Remote Gaming Council.

Harbour's report was more in tune with the Malta government's official line on Internet gambling, arguing that it is simply another form of EU economic activity and should therefore be subject to the principle of free movement of goods and services between member nations, to which the European Commission currently works.

"Malta prefers the present internal market rules to regulate the gaming industry over national regulation as some member states have, in the past, tried to stifle competition through their laws," the Times of Malta remarks.

The newspaper reports that the EU debate had the potential to impact the 4 000 Maltese residents working in the online gambling industry on the Mediterranean island, and the MRGC feels it should therefore have been very closely followed throughout by local MEPs.

Instead, says the Council, the four MEPs did not bother to sign as initially supporting Harbour's alternative report - a document that was in the interest of the island's industry...and two of them did not attend the session when the crucial vote was taken at all.

Malta Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil was the only one to escape the Council's disappointment as the sole Malta MEP who followed the dossier with interest and made sure to lend his support throughout.

Although Malta Nationalist MEPs David Casa and Dr Busuttil and Labour MEP Louis Grech voted with the minority and supported the Harbour alternative, the other two Labour MEPs, John Attard Montalto and Glenn Bedingfield, were absent and did not vote.

However, what seems to have most irritated the MRGC is not the plenary vote itself but what happened before, observes The Times.

Before going to plenary Harbour's report needed at least 40 signatures to be accepted. Although lobbied to do so, only Busuttil of the five Maltese MEPs took the initiative to sign it and lend a helping hand to Harbour.

"This is totally unacceptable," Alan Alden, general secretary of the MRGC, told the newspaper.

"We just cannot understand how only three of the five Maltese MEPs voted for the alternate resolution submitted. Furthermore, we noted that only Simon Busuttil actually endorsed the alternate resolution initially," said Alden.

"Malta is always trying to attract investment and needs to do all in its power to protect the remote gaming industry, which accounts for six per cent of GDP, directly employs 2 000 people and indirectly about another 2 000. We worry about a factory with 150 workers closing down but then ignore an opportunity to do something for this industry. It is totally unacceptable to the council and we intend to pursue this matter further," Alden stressed.

Asked for their reaction, the four MEPs who did not initially sign the Harbour report said they could not sign because they were not physically present in Brussels when Harbour asked for their signatures.

Asked why they did not vote during the plenary, Attard Montalto and Bedingfield said they missed the session for different circumstances. Attard Montalto was "indisposed" and did not travel to Strasbourg and Bedingfield said he was caught in a flight delay and did not make it on time for the Strasbourg voting session.

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