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Gambling Regulation Across the European Union

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  • There are currently 27 countries in the European Union, otherwise known as the EU. On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom voted in a historic referendum to separate from the EU in what is known as a Brexit. The British exit from the European Union will be completed by March 2019, failing which all remaining EU countries will have to approve an extension of the official divorce process. The United Kingdom currently endorses all forms of online gambling, the range of gambling forms range between softer games such as bingo and slots, to more advanced forms such as poker and live casino table games.

    Collectivism Trumps Separatism

    The purpose of banding together in the European Union is to achieve collective objectives that are difficult for individual countries to achieve on their own. This holds true for economic, political, social, and military initiatives. By pooling their resources, abilities and talents, EU countries are now part of the world’s most powerful and influential trading bloc. When it comes to gambling issues, Article 49 of the European Commission Treaty applies.

    EU countries tend to promote the interests of state-sponsored gambling institutions (lotteries or government-owned casinos) over the interests of all European Union citizens vis-a-vis online gambling. Currently, countries that do not adhere to the legal enforcement of universal online gambling legislation in the EU are not penalized, despite protestations from the European Court of Justice. The size of the global online gambling market is estimated at €34.6 billion (2015 figures), and the EU currently accounts for 47.6% of that tally.

    Protecting the Rights of EU Gamblers

    As far as online gambling, iGaming or Internet Gambling, is concerned, the European Union offers broad-based and diverse regulation in this regard. Several countries run monopolistic-style internal programs, being the sole providers of gambling activity in their country. Sometimes, European countries will allow private operators to manage online gambling activity by issuing licences to key operators.

    The rapid growth of online gambling in Europe necessitates a more robust and comprehensive system of regulations. European players routinely access the online gambling services of operators that are not based in the European Union. As such, they may be subject to fraudulent activity of non-EU regulated operators.

    Since there is no official broad-based communique that covers all aspects of online gambling for the EU, member states have taken it upon themselves to regulate online gambling. Ongoing reviews of current gambling/online gambling legislation are taking place, and new forms of gambling also being considered for licensing and regulation.

    The online environment presents many challenges to individual EU countries, such as geolocation tracking, access to non-EU online gambling sites, and payments processing options etc. Several years ago, in 2012, the EC prescribed a Communication Towards a Comprehensive European Framework on Online Gambling. This deals with compliance, administration, protection, prevention of money laundering and fraud, and the integrity of sports betting.

    No EU Standard Currently Exists

    Since individual countries are largely responsible for determining their own legislation on online gambling, laws will vary from one state to the next. Europe has multiple gambling jurisdictions, including the MGA (Malta Gaming Authority), the Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC), the Gibraltar Gambling Authority, and the Isle of Man. Several European countries offer certain forms of gambling, but not all accommodate online gambling. The following gambling regulations apply to these European countries:

    Germany – Germany has been subject to multiple changes to its gambling legislation since 2008. Initially, all forms of online gambling were outlawed, except for state-sanctioned gambling and horse racing. In 2010, the ECJ applied pressure on German authorities to introduce the Interstate Treaty on Gambling. This was adopted in 2012 and allowed private companies to offer gambling services. However, by 2013, this legislation was scrapped and no further gambling licences are being issued in Germany.

    France – in 2009, France introduced an online gambling bill, after the European Union requested it. By 2010, they were 3 official forms of online gambling in the country, including poker, sports betting and horse racing betting. There are no online gambling licences for exchange betting, spread betting, or online casino games and online slots games.

    Italy – Italy sports some of the most liberal gambling laws in Europe. In 2006, Italy introduced various forms of online gambling legislation to provide Internet-based sports betting. As early as 2011, licensees were able to provide online slots games, table games, card games and poker games to players.

    Spain – in 2012, Spanish authorities allowed for operators to provide gambling services according to specific criteria. The Spanish National Gaming Commission (SNGC) spearheaded this initiative. For now, residents of Spain are welcome to play online casino games at any officially sanctioned sites in the country, and multiple forms of online gambling are available.

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