Licensing

Europe’s online gambling sector is highly regulated and online gambling companies possess licenses, sometimes many, each with its own compliance requirements, to operate and provide their services in a country.

In the past, European countries had either no regulations specifically for online gambling or only state monopolies were allowed to offer online gambling in those countries, but today the overwhelming majority of countries have adopted multi-license regimes which allow both private and publicly owned companies to obtain a license to offer online gambling in a country.

Multi-licensing has now been adopted in 25 out of 29 European countries, with 21 countries having introduced full multi-licensing for all regulated online gambling products. This shift towards multi-licensing regimes has been positive and instrumental in establishing well-regulated and competitive online gambling markets which are attractive and provide choice to players.

Many licenses are often required

While the majority of European countries have multi-licensing regimes, each country has its own licensing rules for online gambling which are often very different in character (e.g. the number of licenses allowed in the country; the types of products that a license allows a company to offer to customers in that country) and have their own compliance requirements.

Some European countries require companies to possess one online gambling license to offer all online gambling products allowed in that country, however many countries require companies to obtain individual licenses to offer specific and different online gambling product groups, such as poker or sports betting, that are allowed in that country. An online gambling company is therefore required to have multiple licenses to supply the same game or product (e.g. poker) in different European countries, despite the product or game on offer not being different in character or terms.

These very different licensing rules can, of course, be administratively challenging and costly for gambling operators who offer multiple online gambling products and operate in multiple European countries. In 2020, EGBA’s six member companies collectively had 234 online gambling licenses to provide their services across 19 different European countries, which works out at an average of 12 online gambling licenses per country.

Licensing rules impact the choice available to players

The number of online gambling licensees allowed in a country has an impact of the choice available to the players in that country. The online gambling market is, like most online markets, consumer-driven and highly sensitive to prices. If a player cannot find competitive betting odds, or the products or companies they prefer, within the licensed market, they may look towards international websites based outside their country.

This can lead the player to access websites that are either licensed and regulated elsewhere in Europe, otherwise known as the “grey market”, or, worryingly, with websites that are based outside Europe that are neither licensed, regulated nor pay tax in Europe and do not offer players the consumer protection guarantees which exist on websites that are regulated in European countries.

A lack of competitive betting odds, product offerings or companies can lead to an uncompetitive market and is one of the reasons why, for instance, online gambling monopolies are failing.

The choices available to players determines the success of regulation

For a country’s online gambling regulation to be a success it requires achieving the highest possible share of its players playing within the online gambling websites which are licensed, regulated and supervised in that country.

This ensures that all players are protected by the consumer protection regulations in that country, the national authorities can regulate their country’s gambling activity and can generate the optimum amount of gambling tax revenues, and online gambling companies are required to comply with local licensing obligations.

To facilitate this, national online gambling regulations should support consumer choice by enabling competition in the market through multi-licensing, avoid restrictive licensing and regulatory measures which may make the offshore market more attractive to their players, and establish a regulation which makes it attractive for operators to apply for a license in that country.

Key facts

  • Multi-licensing has been adopted in 25 out of 29 European countries, with 21 countries having introduced full multi-licensing for all regulated online gambling products.
  • EGBA member companies had a combined total of 234 online gambling licenses across 19 European countries in 2020.

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