EU policy rules shouldn’t gamble with protecting players online

Digitalisation is changing how consumers use products — and gambling is no different. With the increased accessibility of online gambling comes a greater responsibility to protect our players and ensure they play in a safe and responsible way. This requires two things: stronger social responsibility from companies and gambling regulation which reflects the digital world we live in.

But in Europe, gambling regulation is struggling to keep pace with technological developments – and this puts the player at risk. Because the level of player protection varies depending on where the player lives in the EU. Online gambling is borderless, and players can easily play on websites based in other EU member states – but this can expose them to unequal and inadequate protections.

This is confirmed by a recent City University London study, which found that only a few member states provide players with a sufficiently high level of protection. The study, using as a benchmark the European Commission’s Recommendation 2014/478/EU on consumer protection in online gambling, reviewed whether member states had implemented selected key consumer protection principles, e.g. exclusion measures.

But the study found that only one member state, Denmark, has fully implemented the guidelines and major gaps exist in how member states protect their players. It concludes that a consistent and high level of consumer protection for Europe’s online gamblers has not been achieved.

Key findings from the study:

  • 3 countries (Ireland, Netherlands, Slovenia) currently have no regulations for online gambling – there is no legal basis to guarantee the protection of players in these countries.
  • All countries impose a minimum age requirement for gambling, with 22 countries setting a uniform age restriction of 18 years of age for all types of online gambling.
  • Only 13 countries require a ‘no underage gambling’ prohibition sign to be displayed on or during commercial advertisements.
  • 23 countries oblige operators to offer self-exclusion facilities for online players.
  • Only 14 countries have established national self-exclusion registers.
  • No country initiates automatic referral to health group organisation or treatment centres upon player self-exclusion.

While most players enjoy gambling in a safe and responsible way, approximately 1 percent display problem gambling behaviour — and more needs to be done to protect them all.

Basic safety nets, such as self-exclusion registers, should be adopted by all member states to ensure there is a minimum level of protection for those who have, or are at risk of, problem gambling behaviour.

In 2019, there is no reason why online gamblers living in one member state should be less protected than those in another. They should, in fact, be better protected by EU rules than someone who buys a book or a plane ticket online – but this is currently not the case.

That is why EGBA is calling for a stronger EU policy approach to the sector to ensure a consistent and high level of protection for the 12 million Europeans who regularly play with our member companies. And the Commission’s 2014 guidelines are a good basis to achieve this.

More common regulation will also benefit how our industry operates. Because meeting 28 different sets of consumer protection rules also means unnecessary duplication and higher administration and compliance costs for those gambling companies who operate in multiple member states.

The study can be found here.

Maarten Haijer, Secretary General, European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA)

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