Newspaper Article Triggers Fierce Response from RGA

In a response to The Independent newspaper’s article stating that 'A huge increase in gambling addicts will make Britain's obsession with online betting a GBP 2 billion business', Clive Hawkswood, the chief executive of the trade body Remote Gambling Association, issued a statement of his own, assessing the article as "inaccurate" and "sensational" and adding that it contains no hard evidence that problem gambling, let alone addiction, is 'soaring'.

In his statement, Hawkswood asserts: "Although it is something we have become accustomed to, it is always disappointing when a subject as serious as problem gambling is dealt with in such an inaccurate and sensationalist manner.

"We should be very clear that there is no hard evidence that problem gambling, let alone addiction, is 'soaring'. The figures used refer to the results of the last UK Prevalence Study from 2010 so it is hardly new research.

“The Gambling Commission said it may be a blip rather than an upward trend and of the two measures used it stated that one showed a change that is not statistically relevant and the other was at the margins of statistical relevance.

"However, even if there has been a slight increase, there is absolutely nothing to show that it is as a result of online gambling."

In addition to this, the Association also criticized high ‘one off’ licensing fees in the Hungarian market proscribed by the new Hungarian Gambling Act, assessing that they could threaten the creation of a fully liberalised online gambling market.

In its statement regarding the matter in the Hungarian market, the RGA stated that "The Hungarian government has submitted an amendment of their 1991 Gambling Act to the European Commission which proposes a gross profits tax (GPT) of 20 per cent for licensed operators. The industry considers GPT the correct method of taxation and is encouraged by its presence within the legislation.

"However, alongside the tax proposals, the government is also proposing that operators pay a concession fee of HUF 100 million (GBP 300,000) for each type of game they offer in order to gain a five year licence.

"State owned operator Szerencsejatek ZRT would be granted a license automatically with the Hungarian government deciding on all other applications. The RGA considers the concession fees to be unrealistically high and likely to deter many operators from entering the market."

It was added by Hawkswood: “If the new regime is to be successful then it must offer appropriate regulation and a viable fiscal framework. Unfortunately, the combination of the new gambling tax and an unrealistically high concession fee would frustrate entry to the Hungarian market.

“International experience clearly shows that if the right balance can be achieved then it will result in clear benefits for the Hungarian Government and Hungarian consumers. Unfortunately we also have experience, from jurisdictions such as France, that measures which effectively prevent the establishment of a competitive domestic market will encounter very serious problems and will lead to consumers continuing to seek out operators in other jurisdictions.”

Making a similar statement about the Greek enforcement measures, the Remote Gaming Association complained to the European Commission stating that the Greek regulations against online gambling firms are “unworkable and illegal” and aim at protecting the OPAP online gambling monopoly.

Therefore, the trade body called on the Greek administration to regulate an open market in online gambling for the benefit of Greek customers, the government and online operators.

The RGA’s main concern is the extension of OPAP’s land based monopoly to online gambling products. In its statement regarding the matter, the RGA noted: "In order to protect this monopoly, the Greek Gaming Commission issued a Decision which sets out a range of enforcement measures including the blocking of other gambling websites (internet blocking), and preventing banks from facilitating gambling transactions (payments blocking).

"The sanctions include fines on Operators, Internet Service Providers, Media companies, Payment/Credit Institutions and even the consumers themselves."

Again, Hawkswood addressed the issue, stating: “The measures that the Greek government want to introduce have not worked in other jurisdictions such as Norway, where the regulator has admitted that its online payments ban has not been a success as research showed more than half of internet gamblers now play as often as they did before the prohibition.

"Furthermore there is no legal justification for ISP and PSP blocking.

"Members of the RGA expect all operators to be offered a level playing field across Europe. In Greece we have OPAP’s monopoly being protected and extended for a short term gain when in the long run the Greek people would benefit from additional choice and better value if the remote gambling market is opened up.”

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