Vasiliki Panousi, Manager of EU affairs, European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), Brussels
Gambling is one of the most popular forms of entertainment globally and one of the oldest, dating back to the Palaeolithic period, before written history even began. Due to the emergence of the internet, forms of gambling have drastically changed. Beginning less than 20 years ago, more than 20% of Europe’s gambling is now taking place online. Each day across Europe millions of people are visiting online gambling websites for their entertainment, making the European online gambling market the largest market for online gambling worldwide. In 2018 total EU online gambling market generated €22.2 bn in Gross Gaming Revenue, accounting for 49,2% of the global online market.
Despite the sector’s popularity and evidently cross-border nature, regulations for online gambling are heavily fragmented throughout the EU. While some EU regulation, such as the General Data Protection Regulation and the Anti-Money Laundering Directive apply to online gambling, the sector is regulated mostly by national laws. As a result, each Member State of the EU has its own set of rules, without much regard for the effects and risks of such a fragmented approach.
One of the key principles of the EU, is that it can provide the same level of rights and protection to its citizens, regardless where they live. This does not exist currently for online gambling. Online players are not equally protected in the EU, but rather exposed to 27 different sets of rules and different customer experiences. As a result, there is a very substantial number of European players that play on websites that are not regulated anywhere in the EU.
The lack of regulatory consistency jeopardises online players’ safety, as unregulated websites do not protect their rights and interests. The European Commission (EC) recognised this problem and outlined a Recommendation for Members States, to ensure a more consistent level of consumer protection in online gambling (the Recommendation). However, a 2018 study showed that only one Member State had fully implemented the Recommendation. Consequently, millions of Europeans experience varying levels of consumer protection when they gamble online. The quality of protection depends solely on where they live.
Problems also stem from the fragmentation or absence of rules to protect vulnerable players and minors. For example, at-risk players who want to self-exclude from gambling activities, are not all well protected, as not every Member State has a self-exclusion register. A self-exclusion register allows a player to exclude himself from all websites at once. It is a highly useful, preventative tool to help anyone at risk of playing too much or uncontrolled to protect himself.
Neither minors are equally protected from being exposed to gambling advertising. A recent study commissioned by the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), which examined the regulatory framework for gambling advertising in 15 countries, found that only 6 countries have specific legislative rules for protecting minors from viewing gambling advertisements.
Finally, 27 different sets of national rules, each with their own compliance requirements, means significant administrative and regulatory costs for companies. The objectives of licencing requirements do not differ significantly between Member States, but companies bear the costs of administrative duplication, as well as the risks of non-compliance, which is inevitably higher with multiple and sometimes conflicting requirements.
There are simple rules that can be proposed, to ensure that online players, minors and players who are at risk are equally protected. For example, self-excluded players could benefit from a European self-exclusion register, that would prohibit access to any regulated website of the EU. EGBA has recently published a code of conduct to establish minimum requirements on responsible advertisingThe code is the first set of pan-European measures to enhance consumer and minor protection in gambling marketing. Greater regulatory cooperation between Member States can also facilitate the dialogue to achieve harmonisation.
One set of rules for online gambling would actually be cost-saving for the EU, as a recent European Parliament study found that it would save €6 billion per year. Since the launch of the EU Digital Single Market, the EC committed to deepen integration of the digital economy and ensure consumers are better protected online. A clear and consistent set of rules for online gambling is an important step to achieve this objective.