Tuesday

21st Sep 2021

Gambling in the EU: A long way from harmonised rules

  • Harmonised EU rules for the gambling industry are still a distant prospect (Photo: Flickr.com)

Decisions on who can open and shut down a casino, a lottery or an online gambling site remain at national level, but there is a trend to more unified rules across EU's 28 member states.

The gambling sector is a very profitable business, with revenues of over €80 billion a year.

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

Online gambling is the fastest rising sector with revenues expected to reach €13 billion next year, compared to €9.3 billion in 2011. Despite its cross-border nature, the licensing system and specific rules governing online gambling remain national.

Neither is the EU involved in specifically regulating the activity of casinos or lotteries. The only cases it can pursue and take governments to court for are breaches of the single market legislation by state-owned lotteries or other gambling outfits that abuse their dominant position.

Some members of the European Parliament and the umbrella association for the gambling industry – the European Gaming and Betting Association – have made the case for harmonised legislation across the EU, in order to increase transparency and revenues that are currently hindered by the fragmentation into 28 smaller national markets each with its peculiarities.

Jurgen Creutzmann, a German Liberal MEP who drafted one of the Parliament's reports on online gambling, told this website that the move towards a more harmonised system is still far away.

"The subsidiarity principle applies. So states can still have monopolies or move towards a license system – a trend that can be seen in most EU countries in the past few years. But then they have to abide by the rulings of the European Court of Justice in terms of transparency when giving licenses and a level playing field," Creutzmann said.

But he also noted that several member states who scrapped their state monopolies have not done much to allow for competition on the gambling market. Germany for instance moved to a licensing system, but said it will only hand out about 20 licenses, despite there being nearly 100 interested operators and the German market the largest in Europe.

"I am sure the German law will be proven in breach of EU law," Creutzmann said in reference to an inquiry launched by the EU commission which may end with Berlin being taken to the ECJ.

"Match fixing, money laundering, fair competition – you can't solve all these things unless you have European solutions. When all member states will have licenses – and almost all have moved to that – then Europe can play a better role," Creutzmann said.

With the Barroso commission coming to the end of its term this year, it is unlikely that the European executive will move on proposing binding legislation on harmonising gambling rules.

The commissioner in charge of internal market, Michel Barnier, has come up with "soft legislation" – non-binding proposals and studies aimed at encouraging national governments to streamline their legislation according to the ECJ rulings.

On one aspect of gambling – possible money laundering – the EU is moving to a single set of rules as part of an overhaul of the anti-money laundering directive, which the EU commission and the European Parliament want to expand to online and offline gambling services.

Countries with a high stake in gambling, such as Malta, already have signalled opposition to the revised rules.

Five out of Malta's total of six MEPs voted against the proposed rules after having consulted with the government on the matter.

Maltese Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi said she voted against these "draconian rules" for fear of its "repercussions on Malta’s financial services".

Even if the majority of MEPs voted in favour of these rules, a deal with member states is still pending and only likely to be achieved towards the end of the year, once the new EU Parliament and commission are in place.

Stakeholder

Online gambling and consumer protection

With the European elections around the corner and having entered a period characterised by the wrapping-up of ongoing legislative initiatives, the European Commission pursues its work in the online gambling sector.

Spanish charity fears liberalisation of online gambling

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 online gambling in the EU. Spain's association for blind people is particularly concerned.

EU court strikes down Germany's gambling monopoly

In a landmark ruling which may "ruin" German state lotteries and bring in big gains for private betting companies, the EU's top court said that the current state monopoly on gambling is "unjustifiable" and in breach of EU law.

Vietnam jails journalist critical of EU trade deal

A journalist who had demanded the EU postpone its trade deal with Vietnam until human rights improved has been sentenced to 15 years in jail. The EU Commission says it first needs to conduct a detailed analysis before responding.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. First refugee deaths confirmed on Belarus-EU border
  2. EU kept in dark on ex-commissioner's new lobby job
  3. Fraud against EU dropped 20% last year
  4. French outrage over US security deal exposes EU frustrations
  5. Auditors slam EU Commission on green investments
  6. Youth migration 'costing West Balkans up to €5.5bn a year'
  7. Central & Eastern Europe: What Merkel did for us
  8. Netherlands against more rights for rejected asylum-seekers

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us