Whether it’s placing a bet on your favorite football team, playing online poker, or betting on Michel Barnier to be the next European Commission President, gambling is a popular pastime for many Europeans. But how people gamble is changing. And regulation needs to keep up.
The online era we live in is reshaping how we entertain ourselves in so many ways — and gambling is no different. And while online gambling is relatively new, it now represents 21 percent of all gambling activity in the EU and continues to grow.
But with its increased popularity comes an even greater responsibility to ensure its players can play in a safe and responsible environment. Because while most Europeans gamble for fun and in a responsible way, approximately 1 percent gamble too much or too often — and more needs to be done to keep players safe when they play online.
That is why, at our recent Responsible Gaming Day in the European Parliament, we called for more EU regulation, not less. Because, right now, most of Europe’s regulation for online gambling is at national level and is struggling to keep up with the challenges of regulating an inherently cross-border activity.
The challenges are obvious: The internet has no national borders, which means Europeans can easily play on gambling websites based in countries other than where they live. But the quality of national gambling regulations in the EU varies significantly and there is no consistency between them.
This means Europeans are subject to very different sets of consumer protection standards when they play online, leaving some players much better protected than others. This is why more common EU rules are necessary. There is an evident need to ensure consumers are not left behind and all players can rely on a consistent and equally high level of protection regardless of where they live in the EU.
In 2014, the European Commission sought to enable this by issuing guidelines to encourage member countries to establish stronger and more consistent consumer protection rules for online gambling. The Commission was due to review implementation of its guidelines by 2017 — but failed to do so.
That is why we recently asked City, University of London to review the online gambling safeguards which exist in member states. Worryingly, the university’s study found that only one member state, Denmark, has fully implemented the Commission’s guidelines — and major gaps exist in how Europe’s online gamblers are protected.
The study found that only 14 member countries have a self-exclusion register. This is a crucial safety net to help gamblers to exclude themselves from accessing gambling websites — yet half of member nations do not have one. Also, none of the existing registers are interoperable — meaning self-excluded players in one member country can still play on gambling websites based in another.
Only 13 member countries require a “no underage gambling” sign on gambling advertising — a simple and common-sense measure.
The study also showed that gambling regulations are often not adapted to the digital age. Only half of member countries allow the use of electronic identification or public databases to verify the identity of players, increasing the risk of fraud and minors finding ways to gamble online.
These are major failings in the effort to keep Europe’s citizens and gamblers safe online — and they could easily be avoided. Even some basic safeguards are not available everywhere in the EU. As a result, it is fair to say that the ambitions of the Commission’s 2014 guidelines have not been realized.
One set of rules would also benefit our members’ companies: one set of rules would be clear and would lessen the costs and risks of meeting 28 different, and sometimes conflicting, sets of rules.
In 2012, a communication from the Commission named Towards a comprehensive European framework for online gambling started work on some good common initiatives. But the current Commission decided to turn a blind eye to its own analysis and the millions of EU citizens who play online. It stopped enforcing EU law in the sector, disbanded regulatory cooperation between national gambling authorities and gave up its commitment to review whether member countries have basic consumer protection rules in place.
It is 2019: If the EU is really serious about making the digital single market work for its consumers, there is no reason why online gamblers living in one member country should be less protected than those living in another. It is time to act.