In the European Union, a new movement designed to overhaul the network of online gambling laws and regulations is underway.
Some leading European-based online gambling companies — Austria’s bwin and Sweden’s Unibet among them — are demanding that the EU implement Internet gambling laws that cover all of the EU, and scrap the nation-by-nation regulatory patchwork that the continent now struggles with.
That patchwork legislation means that international brands like bwin and Unibet must spend a great deal of resources complying with separate regulatory issues in each EU country — like France, Spain, the UK, etc.
“There is a big problem of market access today within the EU,” Sigrid Ligne said in a recent Bloomberg report. Ligne is secretary general for the European Gaming & Betting Association, a group with members like Unibet, Bwin and PartyGaming (the latter two soon to be merged.)
“The EU’s top court in recent years has examined a series of cases brought by betting companies including Bwin, Ladbrokes Plc (LAD) and Betfair Ltd. over whether it is legal for state monopolies to block them from operating freely across the 27-nation region,” explain Jim Brunsden and Stephanie Bodoni in the Bloomberg report. “Online gambling firms have also called on the EU to take action against what they say are unjustified national restrictions on cross-border online gambling.”
Recent EU court rulings have determined that national gambling monopolies “are legal if they meet policy goals like reducing fraud and gambling addiction,” the Bloomberg report continues. Other rulings, though, have been less certain, as with last year’s ruling that the German state monopoly on sports betting and lotteries is counter to EU laws.
As a result of that call for greater regulatory approval, EU officials have published a “Green Paper” on the online gambling issue.
“The document serves as a draft law” for new regulations, and “a basis for discussing the options for future regulation across EU markets,” writes Brendan Murray at CardPlayer.com.
The paper also “invites stakeholders to answer 51 questions affecting the industry in an attempt to definitively regulate the market,” New Europe notes.
“The official position in Brussels is that the paper is intended for consultation purposes and aims merely to ‘gather information’,” adds the Times of Malta’s Ivan Camilleri. “However, many in the multi-billion euro industry fear this may be the first step towards the harmonisation of rules across the 27 member states.”
But what are the odds that such a patchwork of differing cultures — with far more variation than American States, which are also struggling with the same issue — can be regulated under one all-encompassing set of rules?
Economic incentives, as in the U.S., could make the job easier. The EU commission overseeing online gambling noted that “of the 14,823 active gambling sites in Europe, more than 85pc operated” without any license, notes the Independent of Ireland. That leaves plenty of room to implement additional regulations and taxes — and revenue streams.
“According to the Commission’s officials, despite the fact that some member states, like Germany, prohibit online gambling, it is almost impossible to prevent citizens from accessing online websites and trying their luck,” Camilleri writes.
The affiliate angle
If the EU does change its overall online gambling laws, it’s likely to improve the market for gambling affiliates, not vice versa. EU regulators are working to open borders, not close them, and to allow greater foreign company market penetration, not less.
So for affiliates, this could represent a chance to eventually get into new European markets like Germany and some Eastern European countries that still haven’t formulated a concrete plan for online gambling regulations.
The green paper and supporting documentation can be found here.