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Member of the European Commission responsible for Internal Market and Services
Online Betting and Gambling in Europe: from Consultation to Action
European Parliament conference "How to Regulate Betting and Gambling in Europe – Track record and future perspectives", Brussels
27 June 2012
Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
May I, first of all, thank the European Parliament for organising this conference.
Could I also commend the efforts of all the MEPs who have worked on this matter: Christel SCHALDEMOSE and Jürgen CREUTZMANN, authors of reports on this subject which have attracted a great deal of attention, and also – to mention just a few – Heide RÜHLE, Damien ABAD, Cornelis DE JONG and Ashley FOX.
The resolution of 15 November 2011 demonstrated that, broadly speaking, Parliament shares the Commission's view. Parliament calls in the resolution for specific measures at European level, whilst respecting the principle of subsidiarity.
The public consultation was a great success; we can be pleased that the debate was calm and dispassionate, and that today's discussion is focusing on analysing the facts and the issues rather than on emotional reactions.
We have had the consultation and the ensuing discussion. Now is the time for action.
I promised to do just that when I spoke at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
What can we, what must we do at European level? Help the Member States to effectively regulate online gaming, in line with their own national traditions but also in compliance with the Treaty.
Why? To effectively protect consumers and all citizens, whilst responding to the legitimate expectations of online betting and gambling operators. It should be remembered that the latter are responding to a demand for these new services.
Is there European added value in protecting our citizens, whilst respecting the principle of subsidiarity? Yes, because no Member State can deal alone with all the risks associated with this activity.
However, this added value can take different forms:
We need to tackle these challenges together. This is why I will be proposing to the Commission in the autumn that we adopt a plan of action to effectively regulate and supervise online betting and gambling.
This plan should offer detailed responses to challenges identified ( I ) and a methodology for action ( II ).
I – Detailed responses:
It is still too soon to lay these out in detail, but I would like to mention three main elements which should be included in any future action:
1. First element: protecting consumers and citizens
Almost 7 million Europeans gamble online. Our aim must be to provide protection for these consumers, as indeed we must protect all citizens against potential risks. Whatever their Member State of residence.
a) A first requirement in my view is to develop a set of basic guarantees applicable throughout the whole Europe
The consultation has shown that all the Member States have taken measures to protect consumers. But these measures can be very different.
I am convinced that, through persuasion and dialogue – between Member States but also with the industry – we can develop a common European base of principles and measures of protection. So that all citizens are protected, wherever they are and whichever legal site they are connecting to.
b) The second : protecting minors
Children use the Internet every day. We have to find ways to stop them gaining access to betting and gambling sites.
Technical solutions in the form of filters exist, but we have to ensure that the technology develops in the right direction and, in particular, that the age verification tools remain effective.
In addition to technology, the real key is to raise awareness of the risks, firstly among parents but also by stepping up safety awareness education.
Finally, it is vital for the industry to shoulder its responsibilities.
c) The third: responsible advertising
We need clear rules in this area, in all the Member States. It should be obligatory to provide certain information.
I am referring, of course, to a sign saying that access to the site is prohibited for minors, which must be sufficiently visible. But it is also necessary to place warnings about the financial, social and health risks associated with excessive betting or gambling.
We already have in Europe legislation to protect the interests of vulnerable consumers whatever the product or service they buy, such as rules banning aggressive or misleading commercial practices. We need to consider how best to supplement these general rules with specific rules on online gambling.
d) A last requirement : preventing and curing addiction
So far, there have been insufficient studies to draw firm conclusions about the scale and seriousness of the problem.
To make up for this lack of data, the Commission is consulting with several experts in the context of the 'Alice Rap' project, with the aim of developing common definitions and better evaluating the nature and scale of risks. But we have to go further, to develop an anti-addiction policy which is effective because it is based on reality.
2. I now come to the second main element of our action: preventing fraud
The consultation pointed to the need for greater clarity in the application of the Money-Laundering Directive to betting and gambling and to the need to guarantee a level playing field for all regulated operators in the EU (online or off-line).
We will take this into account in our proposal for the fourth Money-Laundering Directive, due in the autumn.
We also envisage a package of measures to better combat all other forms of fraud. For example we must tackle the issue of identity theft, and guarantee the security of online gambling equipment.
3. Third element: the integrity of sport
Protecting the integrity of competitions merits particular attention. The social values which sport encapsulates are in jeopardy.
There is no other type of fraud where it is so evidently difficult for Member States to tackle it alone. We therefore have to guarantee effective cooperation between the national regulators, online gambling operators and sports federations to prevent match fixing.
We also have to consider minimum rules on conflicts of interest, perhaps with a ban on certain types of gambling or the creation of more rigorous control systems.
Androulla VASSILIOU spoke this morning about whether to define match fixing at European level and to make it a criminal offence. I agree with her that this is an interesting but difficult matter to implement.
We must continue to consider it, but the immediate priority is to create the basis for European action to support the integrity of sport. Our plan of action will contribute to this in a very real way.
The popularity of sport around the world and the international nature of online gambling mean that any European action should be part of wider global initiatives.
That is why I attach great importance to the EU's active rule within the IOC and the Council of Europe, which recently took a series of measures in a context surpassing that of the EU alone.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our Communication in the autumn will also establish a methodology for action, which I want to be effective.
II – A methodology using all the tools available and taking into account the wide range of situations.
How can we translate the objectives in our plan of action into reality on the ground? I will mention three ways:
1. Firstly: involve the Member States and develop administrative cooperation
I already said last November that our priority should be for the Member States to work together in a spirit of mutual trust.
To this end, three informal regulators' meetings were organised, which were successful. All understand the need for discussion, even if they still need to be persuaded of the necessary degree of cooperation.
We will put forward the structures necessary for effective administrative cooperation in our plan of action.
I propose that a group of experts be created, comprising representatives of the Member States, to contribute to the preparation and evaluation of European initiatives.
We must continue to develop a close and privileged relationship with the regulators. I will meet with them once our plan of action has been adopted so as to discuss in more detail the various aspects.
2. Secondly, encourage the development of an attractive range of legal gambling opportunities where this is allowed
This is probably the only way to effectively dissuade consumers from going on the many illegal sites which – let us not beat about the bush – will always be difficult to completely suppress.
Aware of this reality, certain Member States have decided to partially liberalise the online betting and gambling market.
In that case – and I would remind you that this is a decision for every Member State to make – it is important for consumers to be able to distinguish between legal and illicit sites.
Moreover, it is also important for legal operators to be able to offer sufficiently attractive products for them to be a credible alternative to the illicit sites, otherwise consumers will continue to turn to illicit and unregulated providers.
3. Finally, it's essential that the European rules be respected
The European Parliament has rightly called on the Commission to continue to investigate situations of non-compliance with the Treaty or the case law of the Court of Justice, which has provided valuable guidelines.
I will therefore ask my department to contact all the Member States concerned by ongoing cases or complaints in order to remind them of the applicable rules and suggest that any problematic situations are rectified in line with current case law.
If blatant infringements persist, I will not hesitate to propose to my colleagues that the appropriate proceedings be taken or relaunched.
The development of a more proactive policy to support the Member States must be matched by a firm determination on the part of the Commission to enforce common rules once they have been clearly established.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We will work with the European Parliament, all the Member States and all the stakeholders to ensure the rapid application and effective monitoring of the European rules we decide to lay down.
Please continue to share with me your comments and suggestions.