Q&A: Maarten Haijer shares his hopes for Europe’s online gambling sector in 2023

Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of EGBA, shares his hopes for Europe’s online gambling sector this year.

What are your hopes for Europe’s online gambling sector in 2023?

Maarten Haijer (MH): The regulatory headwinds we’ve seen in Europe these past two years have been significant, and we hope to see some regulatory stability next year. The industry needs regulatory frameworks that are predictable, stable, and evidence-based. These frameworks should benefit customers first and foremost and ensure the customer remains within the regulated market – because this is where they are best protected against unaccountable black-market operators who offer none of the protections of EGBA members or the rest of the regulated industry. Looking ahead in terms of country regulations, in Finland, we would like to see progress this year in moving beyond the exclusive monopoly system. It’s pleasing to see greater public discussion about the future of the current monopoly system in recent times. Clearly, the monopoly for online gambling does not work, and it’s time the country explored alternatives, including the pros and cons of introducing a multi-licensing system. Elsewhere, in Ireland, we’d like to see a balanced, evidence-based regulation put in place which achieves a high level of channelling and consumer protection. The rest of Europe has already regulated online gambling, and the Irish authorities have an excellent opportunity to look towards the experiences of other countries and adopt the best practices available.

What challenges will the European industry face in the coming year?

MH: The biggest challenge the industry will face this year is being able to respond maturely to the expected continued pressure of increasing regulation. Angrily pointing fingers at the outside world isn’t going to resolve anything. The sector needs to acknowledge that the pressure is there, ask ourselves why we’re seeing more rules and take more responsibility for our own actions. Taking responsibility requires commitment from the most senior levels of leadership of gambling operators. EGBA members are at the forefront of promoting a responsible online gambling sector, but there needs to be a stronger culture of industry responsibility and cooperation across the entire gambling sector in Europe. I’m hopeful because I’ve seen progress in recent years. However, far too many operators still sit on the periphery of the sector, seem very little concerned about their position in wider society and don’t contribute to the sector’s representation. Their attitude not only damages themselves but also continues to bring the rest of the sector down with them. For 2023, I hope for a more engaged, constructive, and outwardly looking industry, and joining forces in trade associations like EGBA is a positive and cost-effective way of encouraging that.

What one thing could transform the industry?

MH: A better understanding of problem gambling. EGBA has proposed a European standard on markers of harm, and the process to develop this voluntary standard will begin in Q1 this year. The eventual standard will lead to a commonly agreed standardised list of markers of harm, based on the best available research, that operators can use to help them detect problem gambling behaviour in a more accurate and timely way. EGBA will be contributing to that process at the discussions here in Brussels, but other operators and experts can become involved through the national delegations, and we encourage them to do so. The process itself of creating the standard will be an invaluable opportunity for gambling stakeholders to come together, pull expertise and collaborate on an issue of joint importance: safer gambling. Being able to identify problem gambling behaviour much earlier is the one thing that I think can transform the industry, ensure that recreational players can continue to play in a safe and competitive environment, and, most importantly, help prevent gambling-related harm from occurring in the first place.

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