Individual member states entitled to their own rights, claims British minister
This week’s debate, organized by the European Gaming and Betting Association and The Parliament Magazine, gathered some of the top European politicians and industry experts, who on the occasion expressed different views on the regulation of internet gambling across Europe.
One of the participants, the UK tourism and heritage minister John Penrose, who is responsible for the British gambling portfolio, stated that the EU should respect the individual rights of each member state to regulate online gambling at the national level. Namely, he pointed out that different cultural attitudes and norms "vary enormously" across Europe, adding:
"In the UK we have light touch regulation and an open market but member states such as Poland and Portugal have more conservative views on gambling and their legislation is more restrictive.
"These differences have deep roots and spring from fundamentally different religious traditions and managing the always-fuzzy dividing line between things which are harmless and enjoyable for the majority of the population but potentially seriously harmful for a small minority."
In addition, Penrose was quite vocal about the importance of protecting the consumer in any regulation of online gambling, adding that, however, gambling was a contentious and emotive political issue, overseen by 27 different national systems and cultures in the EU.
He also warned against "unnecessary bureaucracy, duplication and a 'tick box' approach to regulation".
The event was organized as a part of the European Parliament’s "Responsible Gaming Day" activities, and one of its crucial features was a report on internet gambling, composed by a German deputy Jurgen Creutzmann, which should be on the parliament’s discussion schedule in mid-November.
It has been specified that the report has already received support from the EC internal market committee and is to become parliament's formal response to a European Commission consultative Green Paper.
According to Creutzmann, EU-wide harmonisation of current rules should be conducted so as to bring member states into line with each other. However, he also stressed that online gambling is still regulated exclusively at national or even regional level across the EU.
"The policy options chosen by member states could not be more different, ranging from outright prohibitions of any form of online gambling to perfectly liberalised markets in other member states. However, the internet does not have any physical borders. Therefore, the market is distorted at the moment and the regulation does not work," opined Creutzmann, who has had the unenviable task as parliament's rapporteur of reconciling a number of different international views on regulation.
In conclusion, he added: "On the one hand, you have the defenders of the free market who would like to liberalise online gambling completely. On the other hand, you have the defenders of state monopolies who think that this is the only way to protect consumers and combat organised crime.
"Lobbies on both sides have been very active in trying to influence MEPs but national interests have also been very influential which explains the large number of amendments that were tabled to my draft report.
"As rapporteur, it is my job to facilitate a sensible compromise which is ambitious but can still be supported by a broad majority of parliament."