With the European Commission readying its Green Paper on online gambling, the recent cricket betting saga highlighted the need for European regulation that will allow bookmakers to continue to innovate and maintain their integrity, writes Khalid Ali, secretary-general of the European Sports Security Association (ESSA), in an opinion piece sent exclusively to EurActiv.
The following opinion piece was authored exclusively for EurActiv by ESSA Secretary-General Khalid Ali.
''When British police officers began investigating the extraordinary allegations of spot fixing by certain members of the Pakistan cricket team in August, they doubtless did not have the upcoming publication of the European Commission's Green Paper on Online Gambling foremost on their mind. Yet their actions and more specifically the conditions that led to them are deeply relevant to online gaming in Europe and offer real insight into what is – and is not – needed from the Green Paper.
Let's start with what the Green Paper must not do. Cricket's recent crisis centres on allegations that various squad members, via an 'agent', took bribes to fix spot-bets involving no-balls. These bets were to have been placed with black market or under-regulated bookmakers outside the EU and certainly not online, where perfect audit trails would have made it extremely difficult to get away with the crime – in fact even the 'fixer' in the cricket scandal admitted this by telling the undercover reporter that the online betting market was too regulated to commit fraud.
All of which adds up to a damning indictment on international betting markets and a glowing assessment of the transparency, security and integrity of European ones. The fact that no members of ESSA – and our members include many of Europe's biggest online and offline commercial operators – even offered a market on the no-ball spot bets in question is proof that their own risk management models are well capable, not just of protecting their own business, but the integrity of sport and the interests of the legitimate sport-loving public as well.
Let's juxtapose this with recent legislation in France, which has effectively raised the drawbridge to new operators and passed control of which markets can be offered into the hands of sports federations. Such moves, designed to protect incumbents and discourage innovation, will make betting markets less transparent and drive bookmaking elsewhere. The Green Paper must not allow this to happen in Europe.
Europe's private sector bookmakers have led the way in helping protect sport's integrity. Firstly by establishing ESSA as an early warning system in 2005 – a direct result of the Hoyzer scandal that sent German football back into the Dark Ages, integrity-wise – sports federations now have a vast wealth of information on suspicious or irregular betting behaviour at their disposal that they would never have had access to before.
In addition, the network of security measures that have been put in place by the leading operators in recent years, both online and offline, are making it harder and harder to commit fraud. On top of this, through a partnership between ESSA, the EU Athletes and the European Gaming and Betting Association, the bookmaking sector is helping to educate young sportspeople about match fixing, tackling the problem at its root.
The bottom line is that Europe's online gaming sector represents global best practice when it comes to helping maintain integrity in sport and any attempt to undermine it would represent a grave problem for sport as well as for what is a genuine European success story.
Which leads us to what the Commission should consider including in its Green Paper. Top of my list is the enshrinement of the competitive landscape that has enabled Europe's bookmakers to gain an edge over their international rivals thanks to, in some parts of Europe, a supportive climate for innovation. Harmonise for sure, but the Commission must harmonise the best aspects of European sports gambling, not the worst if we are to make capital from the good work that has already been done.
And then there's regulation. Europe needs regulation that will allow its best bookmakers to continue to innovate to provide a broader range of products and greater protection of integrity than the monopolies of yesteryear (and, unfortunately, in too many cases, today) could ever hope to match. The best practice measures developed by ESSA's members, for example, should be de rigueur across the entire industry.
If anything positive can be said to have come out of the cricket saga it must be that it is beginning to be understood that legitimate bookmakers and sport are on the same team when it comes to integrity. Both lose from match fixing and both have much to benefit from working together as equal partners.''