EU parliament opposes creation of online gambling market
MEPs have by a huge majority voted against creating an EU-wide single market for online gambling, while branding the sector a risk-factor in fraud and addiction.
The European Parliament on Tuesday (10 March) by 544 votes against 36 supported a non-binding report into internet betting by Danish Socialist MEP Christel Schaldemose.
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The document urges member states to hold talks on a "political solution" to online gambling-related problems instead of calling for new legislation by the European Commission, which is invited only to produce research into the sector.
The report says EU countries should consider joint safety measures such as age limits, curbs on advertising and the introduction of pre-paid credit cards to be bought in kiosks to stop people from sinking themselves with excessive debt while, for example, drunk and alone by their laptop.
But new EU legislation forcing countries to open up to internet betting under certain conditions is said to be "not appropriate" due to member states' worries over "the social and public order and health care aspects" of the "very sensitive" industry.
The parliament's text paints a worrying picture of online gambling as a potential tool of organised crime and a threat to children, who can now access websites via mobile phones and games consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox360.
"Online gambling provides increased opportunities for corrupt practices such as fraud, match-fixing, illegal betting cartels and money-laundering, as online games can be set up and dismantled very rapidly and as a result of the proliferation of offshore operators," it says.
The London-based Remote Gambling Association (RGA) however on Monday night attacked Ms Schaldemose' paper, saying it will do more to protect EU member states' national gambling monopolies than vulnerable addicts.
"There are powerful vested interests that are opposed to the opening up of markets in the EU," RGA chief Clive Hawkswood said. "The adopted resolution is more about the funding of sports and effectively protecting existing national gambling markets rather than the integrity of online gambling."
Over the past three years, the European Commission has launched internet betting-linked infringement proceedings against 10 EU countries on the basis of the "freedom of movement of services" pillar of EU law.
France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Denmark, Finland and Austria were targeted, with France this week unveiling plans to open up its Pari Mutuel Urbain monopoly to competition in 2010.
Online gambling as an industry was born in 1996, shortly after the advent of the internet, and by 2008 generated over €15.6 billion worldwide in revenue. European Parliament studies indicate the sector is growing by between eight percent (Austria) and 17 percent (Italy) a year in the EU, even as other industries shrink amid the economic downturn.
"'Staying in' has become the new 'going out' as consumers look to save money on their entertainment. Online gambling is perfectly placed to take advantage of this new trend," a report out Monday by the UK-based Global Betting and Gaming Consultants said.