Friday

22nd Oct 2021

Spanish charity fears liberalisation of online gambling

  • Around half of EU member states allow charity gambling with Spain’s National Association for the Blind (ONCE) having a monopoly in the area. (Photo: Sini Merikallio)

The European Commission opened a legal, political and cultural can of worms when earlier this year it said it would take a closer look at the murky waters of online gambling in the EU.

The announcement sparked a flurry of interest around the EU, not least from a Spanish charity for blind people which fears its charity gambling model will be undermined by any drive to deregulate the sector.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Around half of all EU member states allow charity gambling but Spain’s National Association for the Blind (ONCE) has a monopoly in the area.

Set up in 1938, and working with a licence from the government, ONCE derives around 80 percent of its revenues – last year €1.86bn - from selling lottery coupons.

But it fears that a blithe deregulation of the online gambling sector could potentially decimate its profits.

Angel Sierra, managing director at ONCE, says that allowing gambling operators to set up shop in Spain would "cannabalise" the potential profits it makes from its lottery.

He admits that less than one percent of last year's revenue came from online gambling but points out that the sector is about to explode in growth. The commission itself backs up these growth projections, suggesting that online gambling services accounted for 7.5 percent of the overall gambling market in 2008, a figure that is expected to have doubled by 2013.

"There is a danger of liberalising the market. In Malta, for example, there are more than 500 gambling licences. If all of them operated in Spain, then they would cannabilise the income of ONCE," says Sierra.

He adds: "If they sell, let’s say €1 billion, then of course that billion euros will eat into ONCE sales."

ONCE, which expanded its umbrella to cover all persons with disabilities in Spain in 1983, prides itself on being unique in Europe for ploughing back all of its profits into helping people with disabilities.

It has been lobbying in Brussels to keep its status on social-service grounds.

"I think they understand the uniqueness of ONCE, a lottery totally devoted to the social service of integrating people with disabilities into Spanish society," says Sierra.

The commission published its green paper in March and allowed interested parties to comment on it until the end of July. It is expected to publish plans for the sector in 2012.

In a sign of the interest the area, a short report by German liberal MEP Juergen Creutzmann voted on in parliament on 15 November, attracted hundreds of comments by MEPs. While it says there is a need for more co-ordinated regulation in the EU, the report also suggests that the “traditions and cultures" of member states need to be taken into account.

The commission, for its part, has said that its examination of the area is not simply about liberalising the market.

Rather, says internal market commissioner Michel Barnier: “It is about ensuring that the market for on-line gambling services within the EU is well-regulated for all."

A study by the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law looking into the situation across member states shows the commission could clamp down on restrictive gambling laws even if member states say they are for social reasons.

All member states have restrictions in place for public-interest reasons, but these vary considerably, says the Swiss study, and often result in restrictions in the fundamental internal market freedoms of providing services and the right to establishment, breaching EU law.

But the EU's highest court has in the past upheld national rights to impose restrictions to online gambling under certain narrow conditions.

EU court backs right to restrict online gambling

Europe's highest court has ruled that governments are within their rights to restrict online gambling. The sector's private operators have reacted by calling on the European Commission to propose new legislation.

Brussels to prise open EU gambling markets

The European Commission on Tuesday started legal action against seven EU member states for restricting foreign firms from entering their domestic gambling markets.

Disability in Europe

Already at the margins of society as a result of casual discrimination, disabled people are among the worst hit by the waves of austerity measures being put in place right across the European Union. Read more in EUobserver's November Focus.

Opinion

MEPs poised to vote blank cheque for Europol using AI tools

Fair Trials, EDRi and other civil society organisations are calling on MEPs to hold true to protect our fundamental rights. We urge MEPs to vote against the revision of Europol's mandate, which distinctly lacks meaningful accountability and safeguards.

Romania pushes live-animal exports despite EU criticism

Romania was criticised during a crisis in the Suez canal earlier this year when the country was the source of 130,000 of the 200,000 live animals stranded without food and water during the shipping bottleneck.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Dutch lawyers take Frontex to EU court over pushbacks
  2. Polish rule-of-law debate boils over to EU summit
  3. MEPs back EU food reform, despite strong lobbying
  4. EU calls for end to gas price speculation
  5. Romania pushes live-animal exports despite EU criticism
  6. MEPs poised to vote blank cheque for Europol using AI tools
  7. EU re-launches mammoth fiscal debates
  8. Czech politics in limbo over Zeman health crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us