EGBA Slags EU Nations Over Online Gambling Consumer-Protection Gaps

In something of a twist from most stories of this nature, the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) has taken to task the large majority of European Union member nations over perceived consumer-protection problems concerning various aspects of online gambling. According to a study funded by the EGBA, the Brussels-based industry group representing numerous EU-licensed operators, only Denmark among all EU countries covered by the study has fully implemented a framework of EU consumer protection guidelines covering gamblers’ interactions with online-gambling operators.

The study, commissioned by the EGBA and published on Thursday by Dr. Margaret Carran of City University London, surveyed all 27 EU member nations (including a pre-Brexit United Kingdom) and found that 26 of the 27 surveyed jurisdictions lacked some form of compliance with the EU’s consumer-protection mandates for the sector. Among those found lacking were the UK, despite the stringent and increased requirements implemented in recent years by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission, and the EGBA’s operational-base country, Denmark.

In publishing the study, the EGBA has called on all these EU member states to address the various deficiencies and work toward uniformity for online gambling across Europe. The study served up these key findings:

General

  • The primary objective of the European Commission’s Recommendation has not been achieved. Regulation of online gambling substantially diverges between Member States exposing online players to varied levels of consumer protection.
  • Only one jurisdiction (Denmark) has implemented the Recommendation fully.

Players’ identification & verification requirements

  • 25 countries legally require online players to open an online gambling account in order to play.
  • 22 countries require players’ identities to be verified upon application to open a gambling account.

Minors’ protection

  • All countries impose a minimum age requirement for gambling, with 22 countries setting a uniform age restriction at 18 years of age for all types of online gambling.
  • 13 countries require ‘no underage gambling’ sign to be displayed on or during commercial advertisements.

Social responsibilities’ measures

  • 23 countries oblige operators to offer self-exclusion facilities for online players.
  • 14 countries have established national self-exclusion registers.
  • No country initiates automatic referral to health group organisation or treatment centres upon self-exclusion.

The complete study offers these additional top-level findings:

  • The Commission Recommendation 2014/478/EU aimed to encourage a consistently high level of protection for consumers of online gambling across all Member States through the introduction of common provisions addressing players’ identification requirements, prevention of underage gambling and social responsibility measures.
  • In the main, the primary objective of the Recommendation has not been achieved. The legal regulation of online gambling and their practical interpretations continue to substantially diverge between Member States exposing online players to varied levels of protection.
  • Only one jurisdiction (Denmark) appears to have implemented the Recommendation’s principles fully. In all remaining jurisdictions, at least one recommended principle has not been implemented in the national laws. In several jurisdictions the conditions are more onerous while in others they are more lenient or do not exist and consistency is lacking.
  • In the Netherlands, online gambling continues to be prohibited. In Ireland and Slovenia, no specific regulations for online gambling exist.
  • European Union initiatives led to the creation of a Cooperation Arrangement between the ambling regulatory authorities of the EEA Member States concerning online gambling services. This arrangement was published on 27 November 2015 and has been signed by 27 countries. It provides a concrete tool to increase greater administrative cooperation between the signatories but participation in the arrangement is voluntary and the determination of the actual extent and scope of such cooperation is determined by each individual Member State.
  • The majority of regulators from Member States participate in international forums (e.g., GREF) and contribute to the Expert Working Group. Most engage in an open dialogue with their counterparts in other countries to share experiences, best practices and for advice purposes. They issue opinions and statements of intents but due to their voluntary nature and composition they lack legal competence to issue binding decision.
  • The lack of uniform implementation of the Recommendation’s principles is underpinned by the voluntary and non-binding nature of the instrument. There is also lack of consensus between Member States as to what measures should be required to ensure effective protection.
  • In the absence of such consensus, only mandatory harmonisation measure would be capable of securing greater regulatory convergence.
  • However, the EU Commission has no further plans for any other gambling specific initiatives at EU level.

The cited “lack of consensus” goes hand in hand with the European Commission‘s decision to throw up its hands and ignore all EU member-country legal matters pertaining to online gambling, which has left the Union with little realistic chance of achieving the harmony the EGBA study calls for, at least in the foreseeable future.

According to Maarten Haijer, the Secretary General of the EGBA, “Because online gambling in Europe is regulated at national-level, the level of consumer protection provided to players varies depending on where they reside in the EU – and this is entirely inadequate for what is an inherently borderless digital sector. Guidelines have proven insufficient and we call on EU policymakers to act by introducing mandatory rules to ensure there is a consistent high-level of consumer protection and uniform safety nets for all online gamblers in Europe.”

EGBA member companies include bet365, Bet-at-home, BetClic, Betsson Group, Expekt, GVC Holdings PLC, Kindred Group Plc, MRG, and ZEAL Network. The EGBA is also affiliated with ESSA (European Sports Security Association), the EU’s most prominent, industry-funded anti-fraud and corruption group charged with monitoring suspect sports-betting activity in Europe.

According to the EGBA’s mandate, the group “promotes the creation of a safe and reliable European digital environment for online gambling players. A well-functioning digital environment requires regulation that provides a high level of consumer protection and takes into account the reality of the digital economy and consumer demand. It must also ensure that the regulated offer can be attractive enough to appeal to the maximum number of players so as to channel them away from unregulated offers.”

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