EGBA wants to update the EU online gambling rules with more regulation

The European Commission introduced guidelines in 2014 intended to standardise online gambling and offer adequate consumer protections across EU member nations.

The guidance amounted to a set of minimal rules that gambling operators and national governments were expected to adhere to. Unfortunately, the guidance has fallen flat. That has led to the European Gaming & Betting Association (EGBA) to call on the EU for a reboot.

The EGBA plan calls for the European Commission to revisit its original guidance for the purposes of finding a way to be more effective in its enforcement. Furthermore, the EGBA wants the Commission to enhance the guidelines. Whether or not it will actually happen remains to be seen.

The EGBA's goals

At a recent meeting of the European Parliament, the EGBA presented its case for a reboot of online gambling. Representatives first made the case that the EU's lack of enforcement has led to its 2014 guidance having no teeth. Members of Parliament were specifically reminded that the Commission recently dropped nine cases of enforcement it had been looking at.

The lack of enforcement has left both national governments and online gambling operators in a state of limbo. They are unsure how to react to guidelines that seem to have no enforcement attached to them. In light of that, the EGBA presented four goals it would like to see achieved through the policy reboot:

  • Full Enforcement - Full enforcement is the foundation of all the other goals. EU guidance is completely worthless if the Commission does nothing to encourage compliance. Whether or not that means abolishing the voluntary nature of compliance still hasn't been settled.
  • Consumer Protection - EGBA representatives are concerned that adequate consumer protections are not in place in some EU countries. As such, they want the guidance enhanced to improve such protections. Furthermore, they want those protections to be consistent across the EU.
  • Cooperation - Next, the EGBA wants to see greater cooperation between national governments and the EU for the purposes of standardisation. As things currently stand, the laws governing online gambling are quite divergent across the EU. The EGBA believes that needs to change.
  • Fewer Administrative Burdens - Finally, the fourth goal of Online Gambling 2.0 is to remove as many administrative hurdles as possible for online operators. The hope here is that streamlined administration will encourage more industry growth.

The EGBA hasn't been entirely forthcoming about how they expect the Commission to achieve the four stated goals. But putting the Commission on notice is an important first step to realising them. Now they wait to see how Parliament will respond.

Gambling industry input

EGBA representatives were joined by numerous gambling industry officials during the recent presentation in Brussels. Interestingly enough, those officials expressed to members of the European Parliament that the online gambling industry in Europe wants more regulation. This could be one of the very few instances in which greater government interference is actually welcomed!

According to the European Gaming website, industry officials expressed frustration with the patchwork of national regulations they currently deal with. That is understandable. Operators are trying to voluntarily comply with EU guidance while also having to maintain compliance with national laws.

It stands to reason that such a regulatory environment would cause operators to want a solution. What's puzzling is that they want more regulation rather than less. But if that is what they want, so be it. There is little doubt the EU will eventually respond with more sweeping legislation - god help us all.

A desire for EU harmonisation

Something else that was frequently mentioned during the Brussels meeting was the need for EU harmonisation within online gambling. As we understand it, harmonisation takes standardisation to the next level. But is it something that the online gambling industry in Europe really needs?

Standardising the rules would put operators in every EU country on a level playing field. They would all be required to implement the exact same consumer protections. They would be required to take the same actions against money laundering. The list goes on and on. But harmonisation goes a bit further.

Harmonisation also includes cooperative enforcement. Right now, that seems to be the main sticking point. It is clear that the EU guidelines issued in 2014 have no real enforcement power attached to them. But that's just the start.

Member nations have their own rules that appear to be selectively enforced. So even if standardisation were introduced, there is the question of whether every member nation would enforce the standardised rules to the same degree and with the same effort.

As an example, one of the representatives at the Brussels meeting explained that some member countries may see the enforcement of a particular rule as beneficial while another group doesn't view it that way. The latter group may not enforce that particular rule because they see no benefit in doing so.

The main challenge to harmonisation is finding the right balance. How far should the recommendations go? Should existing recommendations be turned into legal mandates? To what degree should the recommendations or mandates be enforced by member nations? There are apparently no easy answers.

A desire for minimal regulation

As amazing as it sounds, the EU Parliament responded to what they heard by saying they want to keep regulations at a minimum. This coming from a group that has had no trouble extending its reach in so many other areas. For some reason, the European Parliament is showing resistance to over-regulating online gambling.

That could be both good and bad. It is good in the sense that business tends to thrive in direct correlation to the volume of regulations they must adhere to. But it's bad in the sense that international operators with online gambling sites in multiple EU countries are constantly facing a patchwork of regulations they sometimes cannot make sense of.

It can be extremely frustrating for an international operator to have to follow one set of rules in one EU nation and an entirely different set in another - all while attempting to follow EU guidance. That could be why the industry is asking for more regulation. Perhaps they are willing to give up some industry control in exchange for standardisation and harmonisation.

What it means to gamblers

While political leaders and online gambling operators work out the kinks that exist in existing EU guidelines, gamblers are continuing to do what they do. The question is, how would this affect them if the EGBA's strategy proves successful?

We have to say that the most notable change would be stronger and more consistent consumer protections. What those protections would look like is not clear. However, it is reasonable to speculate they would address things like fair play standards, age limits on gambling, data protection policies, secure payments, and a few other things.

Would it affect your ability to play Mega Moolah? Probably not. Access to online gambling is pretty open across most of Europe. It is not likely that enhanced EU guidance would change that.

On the other hand, standardisation and harmonisation could weed out some online operators who decide they are not interested in complying with enhanced guidance. Should the Commission go as far as to convert their voluntary guidance into legal mandates, you could almost guarantee that some operators will drop out. That is the nature of the beast.

It is up to parliament now

The European Parliament has heard what the EGBA has to say. They have acknowledged that the online gambling industry is asking for more regulation. Now it is up to them to decide what they want to do with what they've heard. It seems likely that it will lead to at least a few changes in the near future. There is a very strong possibility that enforcement will be at the top of the list.

In the meantime, there are a handful of countries within the EU now in the process of liberalising their gambling laws in order to promote competition between international operators and their domestic counterparts. Sweden is one of them. Any efforts to slow them down through standardisation and harmonisation probably will not fly.

According to European Gaming, Belgium has already shown their dissatisfaction with the 2014 guidance by filing a legal challenge in an attempt to block its enforcement. Would Belgium step in again? It is possible.

The reality here is that the EU is finding it incredibly difficult to come up with a set of standard policies that can be voluntarily enforced across the bloc without having to take the drastic step of creating new mandates. This is the very reason the original 2014 guidelines have gone nowhere in the last four years.

Could more regulation be the answer? No one really knows and the industry may just shoot itself in the foot asking for more regulation. To use a gambling analogy, it is a crap shoot.

Byline: This article was published by Mega Moolah expert Henry. Media and other enquiries.

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