In an unusual move, the European Parliament is set to vote on two different reports regarding online gambling next month. A minority of MEPs strongly disagree that member states should be allowed to regulate online gambling, calling for internal market rules on freedom of services to be applied instead.
The Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee adopted, with 32 votes for and 10 against, an own-initiative report by Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose on the integrity of online gambling on 11 February.
The report, which focuses on the integrity of the industry regarding fraud, money-laundering, addiction, underage gambling and fixed games, is not binding and will not immediately lead to any legislative initiatives.
Subsidiarity principle vs. internal market rules
While the report highlights member states’ right to regulate the industry at national level under the subsidiarity principle, it also calls on the Commission to clarify the competences of the member states, and on the Council to seek “a potential political solution” to the problems of gambling and betting. MEPs also underline that the European Court of Justice should not define the European gambling market.
Protecting consumers, fighting fraud
MEPs back the idea of setting age limits for online gambling and banning credit and bonus schemes to protect vulnerable gamblers. They are also exploring the possibility of introducing maximum amounts that a person can spend on gambling activities per month. Another possibility would be to oblige online gambling operators to make use of prepaid cards for online gambling. They also call for more and better information about the potential addictiveness of certain games and where to get help.
Regarding potential criminal activities, the report calls for better national cooperation to address data misuse and payment card fraud, which can occur if a player steals someone else’s identity by hacking into an IT system or using stolen credit cards.
Funding of sport
MEPs are concerned about the deregulation of gambling, which they say is “by far” the most important source of income for sports organisations in many member states.
They also note that bets taken by private operators are “a form of commercial exploitation of sports events” and recommend governments to protect sporting competitions from any unauthorised commercial use and take steps to ensure fair financial returns for the benefit of all levels of professional and amateur sport.
An alternative report
A number of MEPs are supporting a minority opinion that will be attached to the text, soon to be developed into an alternative report to be submitted to the plenary, because they are “concerned that the content of the report goes beyond the remit of the initiative which intended to focus on the transparency of the online gaming market, the integrity of online gambling operators and the possible consumer detriment caused by the online gaming industry”.
The minority opinion, initiated by British Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour, argues that the report underlines single market principles and does not adequately reflect the situation across the EU 27, as “well-functioning and well-regulated markets already exist in certain member states that allow consumers to play in a safe and secure online environment”.