Due to the fast development of technology, online gambling is now available not only on computers but also via mobile phones and TVs: around 15,000 sites are accessible in Europe. But over 85 per cent of these are unlicensed, bringing with them the dangers of fraud, money laundering and gambling-related disorders such as addiction.
At my initiative, the European Commission held a thorough public consultation on online gambling last year. What we found is that although national governments have the same objectives of protecting consumers and preventing fraud, they cannot effectively regulate or respond to the challenges posed by online gambling individually. They cannot ensure the high level of protection from the risks of unregulated online gambling that every EU citizen deserves. Furthermore, a culture of cooperation between the gambling regulatory authorities is lacking or is too limited in scope. Yet the challenges faced are common to all countries, and regulators can learn from one another by sharing good practices.
Looking at all this, I want to foster a more cohesive policy for online gambling in the EU, with due respect however, to the diversity of national legislation. We have seen the negative consequences of poorly regulated markets before and do not want to see this happen again in the area of online gambling. Also, a comprehensive European framework for online gambling should contribute to making authorised gambling opportunities more easily identifiable and more attractive, thereby dissuading consumers from using unregulated offers.
I am not proposing an EU-wide law on online gambling. What I am proposing is a comprehensive set of actions and common principles of protection. There are certain key groups that we must take special care to protect: these are our children and other vulnerable groups. Since 75 per cent of EU citizens under the age of 17 use the internet, this is an age group that needs particular attention. I am therefore encouraging the development of better age-verification tools and online content filters. I will also push for more responsible advertising, and increased awareness of the dangers that are associated with gambling.
In addition to preventing addiction among minors, we have a responsibility to protect those citizens and families who have already suffered from a gambling addiction (between 0.5-3% of our population), by finding effective methods of treatment and cure. For this we also need a better understanding of the underlying causes.
Another key objective is to prevent and deter fraud and money-laundering through online gambling. Due to the cross-border nature of online gambling, individual Member States cannot successfully apply anti-fraud mechanisms. An approach that brings together the EU, Member States, and industry is necessary to tackle the problem from all angles and to ensure effectiveness.
A similar level of cooperation is necessary to safeguard the integrity of sports. Betting-related match-fixing goes against the very nature of fair play and competition that defines sport. To combat it, the Commission will promote greater cooperation at national and international level between stakeholders, operators, and regulators to preserve the integrity of our sports, as well as better education and increased awareness of sportspeople.
To accomplish these ambitious goals we need to take a number of important steps: crack down on sites which are not regulated in any manner, develop legal alternatives that are attractive enough and take measures to ensure that the growth of the online gambling market is safe and supervised.
The Commission will be working with member states and the European Parliament to implement the many measures put forward. But it will also be monitoring progress and evaluating the effectiveness of these measures – and where they prove insufficient will not hesitate to come forward with additional initiatives.
The author is European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services.