European Commission Draws Criticism over Closure of Online Gambling Infringement Cases

The European Commission announced on Thursday that it is dropping all infringement procedures against Member States in relation to online gambling. The institution explained that it has always tried to pursue its political priorities and this approach has been reflected in its treatment of infringement cases.

The Commission will thus focus its attention on cases it believes are more important in terms of “public and private interests” involved.

The regulation of online gambling has been an important topic in a number of European countries over the past several years. Many of these countries have been the subject of heavy criticism from the industry due to the restrictive measures adopted by them that oftentimes violate fundamental EU principles, including the freedom for the provision of services within the union’s borders.

There have been multiple occasions on which online gambling industry stakeholders have turned to the European Commission to interfere in the legalization and regulatory processes undertaken by EU member states.

In its Thursday statement, the Commission said that it would continue helping member states in their fight against unregulated gambling and in their efforts to protect vulnerable customers from falling victims to unauthorized operators. However, it will leave it to national courts to handle infringement cases as it believes they will be able to do this more efficiently.

Reactions to the European Commission’s Announcement

As it could be expected, the Thursday announcement came as a big blow to the online gambling industry. Criticism from industry representatives and international gambling trade associations mounted quite quickly. The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) and the Remote Gambling Association were among the first to comment on EC’s decision.

EGBA’s Secretary General Maarten Haijer said in a statement that the Commission’s decision is unhelpful in the fight against unregulated online gambling. Mr. Haijer went on to say that the fact the Commission believes individual member states should resolve online gambling regulation challenges demonstrates “lack of understanding of the digital customer”.

Remote Gambling Association’s CEO Clive Hawkswood said in a separate statement that the Commission “has effectively abandoned” the online gambling sector and has thus “given a free pass” to regulatory regimes that are not compliant with EU treaties and laws. The official further pointed out that the control the EC had previously exercised had resulted in the creation of very efficient regulatory frameworks in a number of member states.

News about the Commission’s plan to close online gambling infringement cases first spread last month when it emerged that online gambling operators had been informed about the upcoming changes. On Thursday, the Commission confirmed its new stance and change of focus.

It is believed that its decision will have a particularly negative impact on international operators’ attempts to convince regulators and politicians in a number of member states that a successful gambling regulatory regime should combine a reasonable licensing system that allows foreign operators to bid for local licenses, an equally reasonable taxation system, and proper monitoring and responsible gambling tools that would protect players and the industry, as a whole, from violators.

Image credit: World IP Review, Twitter

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