EU operators call for ‘hard’ action from the Commission to curb market fragmentation and protect consumers - EU operators lodge formal complaint with the Commission against the new German gambling régime.
The EGBA today outlined its expectations for the European Commission’s Communication and Action Plan on online gambling, currently scheduled for mid to late October. This initiative, which flows from the Commission’s commitments to the European Parliament last November, will be a key test:
- Will the current fragmentation of the EU online gambling market continue?
- Will consumers therefore continue to suffer different levels of protection throughout the EU?
- Will some consumers, and in particular children and the vulnerable, continue to suffer no protection at all, where a Member State closes the door to EU-regulated operators, thus encouraging consumers to look for non-regulated websites?
As Commissioner Barnier has said: “[It is] important for legal operators to be able to offer sufficiently attractive products for them to be a credible alternative to the illicit sites”
Sigrid Ligné, Secretary General of EGBA said: “We deplore the situation today where we see 27 ‘mini-markets’ for gambling in Europe. We are calling for the introduction of European rules to ensure proper protection for consumers and maintain a crime-free environment throughout the EU, while affording open, fair and transparent licensing conditions for EU-regulated operators.”
The EGBA also today announced that, together with other industry partners, it is lodging a formal complaint with the Commission against the new German gambling regime on grounds of incompatibility with the EU treaty.
Sigrid Ligné added: "Together with other industry partners, EGBA this week lodges an official complaint with the Commission against the revised German gambling law. We urge the European Commission to handle our complaint urgently as Germany is in the process of allocating licenses on the basis of a highly contentious tendering procedure which appears, on the basis of a cumulation of evidence, not to be designed to pursue the declared purpose of conducting an open, fair and transparent Europe-wide call for bids."
In his June 2012 speech to the European Parliament Commissioner Barnier made a clear commitment that the Commission will assume its responsibility and ensure that national regimes are in conformity with the Treaty. Unfortunately, the situation is worsening in a number of jurisdictions. Several Member States have decided to move forward with legislation that is - at best - highly questionable under EU law. Some have even gone a step further. If the Commission fails to provide a timetable for reactivating these dormant procedures, and to take rapid action against new offenders, certain Member States will continue to consider that they have “carte blanche” to do as they please. They will also be exposing consumers to potentially unsafe operators.
Sigrid Ligné said: “Action from the Commission on European gambling markets is more justified and urgent than ever. The normal course of EU justice – infringement procedures – can no longer be put on hold. There are 9 infringement procedures suspended for the moment, and many more new complaints lodged with the Commission."
EU legislative framework:
What is ultimately needed is overarching EU legislation for online gambling, as there is for virtually all other online services. The objective is to have EU wide sector specific legislation that regulates both market access and consumer protection issues. But a first practical step should be made by the Commission in its action plan next week by announcing it will take the initiative by developing;
- Common consumer protection standards, ideally based on the existing workshop agreement published in 2011 by the CEN (European Committee for Standardization).
- Common technical standards and reporting tools
- Common licensing requirements
Sigrid Ligné added: “The Commission wants the online single market to work as effectively as the offline market in promoting economic growth. Can the Commission therefore afford to sit back and ignore an online industry which is set to grow from €8.5 billion in 2010 to €13 billion in 2015?”