On Monday the European Commission announced non-binding recommendations that would tighten rules and better regulate a fast-growing and dynamic online gambling industry.
The non-compulsory proposals are intended to provide better protection for consumers – minors in particular – and help to coordinate a large, changing and fragmented market that, especially in Europe, has ballooned over the past few years.
Figures from European Union data show that seven million Europeans gambled online in 2012. This amounts to 45% of the world’s market, which industry data puts as worth $33bn/€24bn.
Michal Barnier, the EU’s internal market and services commissioner, said as the industry grows all citizens must be better protected from the associated risks.
He called on both member states and online gambling operators to demonstrate an equal level of ambition for consumer protection.
The Commission’s recommendation sets out a number of principles that member states are encouraged to adhere to in their gambling regulations.
These include basic information requirements for gambling websites combined with responsible commercial communication (advertising and sponsorship) to ensure consumers are informed about the risks involved in play.
It suggests operators establish a registration process to open a player account so that details of age and identity can be verified. Not only will this allow operators to keep track of player behaviour and raise the alarm if necessary, it will help to ensure minors cannot gamble online.
The Commission recommends a commitment to ensuring minors are unable to gamble and have minimal contact with the industry, including through advertising and promotion.
It suggests that advertising and sponsorship of gambling services should be more socially responsible and transparent. It should not exert pressure to gamble, suggest it can solve problems or make “unfounded statements” about chances of winning.
Finally, member states are invited to ensure employees that interact with customers are trained to understand problem gambling and are able to liaise appropriately with players, who should have access to help lines they can call for assistance and the ability to easily exclude themselves from gambling websites.
In addition, the recommendation encourages awareness-raising campaigns, data collection regarding the opening and closing of player accounts and breaches of commercial communication rules, and the designation of an independent regulatory authority to ensure compliance with recommendations.
Maarten Haijer, head of the European Gaming and Betting Association, welcomed the news and said: “European consumers deserve to be equally well protected throughout the EU, wherever they reside.”
He added that an EU-wide policy for online gambling is “evidently necessary for this cross-border internet sector”.
The industry first flourished in member states like Britain and Malta, but in other states such as France and the Netherlands growth was slow as the countries tried to protect both consumers and state gambling monopolies.
However these countries have now opened up their markets after pressure from Brussels.
The Commission said it hopes that the several states in the process of creating or reviewing their legal frameworks in the area will be able to use the recommendation as guidance.
It added that it chose to draft recommendations as opposed to legislation because the latter is a lengthy procedure that risks failure.
It now invites member states to inform the Commission about the steps it has taken in light of the recommendations after 18 months.
After 30 months the Commission will review the measures taken by member states.