EU urge for legal harmony - fast response from Brussels (update)

EU Ministers agree on definition of ‘illegal gambling’.

The call by the Spanish EU Presidency earlier this week (see previous InfoPowa report) for member nations to come together and frame a common definition for ‘illegal gambling’ has been answered with unusual speed by Brussels politicians.

According to the publication EuroActiv, ministers have already studied the presidential request and – despite opposition from Malta - agreed a common definition of illegal gambling, taking the first step towards possible European collaboration.

Meeting in Brussels, the ministers discussed the presidency report, and according to diplomatic sources reached agreement on a definition, perhaps preparing the ground for a legal framework on gambling and betting in the EU.

Early reports suggest that the ministers were agreed on the following to define illegal gambling:

“Gambling in which operators do not comply with the national law of the country where services are offered, provided those national laws are in compliance with EU treaty principles."

If confirmed, the agreement leaves Malta out in the cold. The Mediterranean island, which is heavily reliant on revenues flowing from its regulatory activities in internet gambling, has previously been supported by the British, arguing that gambling is an economic activity like any other, and that EU rules on freedom of services in the internal market are applicable.

The EU’s recently appointed Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier announced in February that the EU executive would seek a more coherent way to address the issue of cross border gambling in the Union.

To this end, Barnier said the Commission will launch a public consultation on the issue with a Green Paper due to be presented in the autumn of 2010. Specific proposals to tackle illegal gambling could follow afterwards.

Member states have not been consulted on gambling since they decided to leave the issue out of the Services Directive in 2006, EuroActiv points out.

The Spanish Presidency report stressed that the rulings of the European Court of Justice "require member states to start a constructive debate and an exchange of views on the concept of illegal gambling."

The developments are important in light of attempts by online gambling companies licensed in EU member nations to gain access to gamblers in other member nations on grounds of EU principles on free movement of services, which have resulted in a number of legal actions.

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