The European Commission has finally released its action report on internet gambling titled ‘Towards a comprehensive European Framework for online gambling’ and according to the Commissioner in charge of online services Michele Barnier, online gambling is the largest and most rapidly expanding global market for the pastime, with nearly seven million users in the EU, and revenues that are expected to reach Euro 13 billion by 2015.
Barnier said that the size and special nature of this market means that its regulation and supervision must be effective, therefore the Commission's proposed measures include tougher safeguards against money laundering, fraud and match-fixing in sports, and protection of consumers from gambling-related disorders such as addiction (between 0.5-3 per cent of the EU population).
Since 75 per cent of EU citizens under the age of 17 use the internet, the Commissioner proposes that children and other vulnerable groups get special protection so the development of better age-verification tools and online content filters, as well as more responsible advertising, must be an ultimate task.
Preventing fraud and money-laundering cannot be successfully implemented due to the cross-border nature of online gambling unless every individual Member State, the EU and the industry work together, the Commission and Barnier assessed.
Regulatory collaboration is also a necessity when it comes to the integrity of sports where betting-related match-fixing goes against the very nature of fair play and sport competition. Therefore the Commission will try to establish greater cooperation at national and international level between stakeholders, operators and regulators.
n order to succeed in that, Barnier suggests further steps: cracking down on sites which are not regulated in any manner; developing legal alternatives that are attractive enough; taking measures to ensure that the growth of the online gambling market is safe and supervised.
While the Commission conducted its consultations in the best way for regulating online gambling in Europe, a moratorium on its actions was imposed which forced companies like Bwin.Party digital entertainment, Ladbrokes and Betfair to show patience regarding their complaints against some national monopolies to exclude them from certain markets in the EU, or impose unreasonable restrictions on cross-border internet gambling.
The Commission has received complaints about market-access curbs in 20 EU nations but it has considered and rejected proposing legislation to clarify competition rules for the industry. At the same time a more cohesive policy for online gambling in the EU will respect the rights and diversity of national laws, without suggesting an EU-wide law on internet gambling.
As it is, the European Commission's action plan covers five broad areas:
1) compliance of national regulatory frameworks with EU law
2) enhancing administrative cooperation and efficient enforcement
3) protecting consumers and citizens, minors and vulnerable groups
4) preventing fraud and money laundering
5) safeguarding the integrity of sports and preventing match-fixing
In the end Barnier promised to monitor progress and evaluate the effectiveness of these measures – and where they prove insufficient the Commission will not hesitate to come forward with additional initiatives.