The gambling industry has been left out in the cold by the European Commission, which has announced today that it will be focusing its time and effort on only the most serious infringements of EU law – meaning that all the currently pending infringement proceedings involving gambling have now been dropped.
Challenging EU law has been a very active area for betting operators over the past 15 years – Stanleybet in particular has been very successful in campaigning against market barriers – so for the sector now to be essentially ignored by the EU is surprising.
The Remote Gambling Association (RGA) said it views this decision as ‘highly questionable’, especially as it is based on and not on any legal assessment of the merits of the cases. Clive Hawkswood, CEO of the RGA, said: “The existence of infringement proceedings and the Commission’s subsequent pressure on Member States to comply with EU law has helped with the introduction of many effective and sensible regulatory regimes for online gambling across Europe. However, many other cases have been left to languish for several years and many unlawful restrictions to the free provisions of services have yet to be addressed. In those circumstances we are of course dismayed that, with regard to the Internal Market, the Commission has effectively abandoned our sector and given a free pass to non-compliant regimes.
“However, we will continue to work with Member States with the aim of establishing EU-compliant regimes that would benefit European consumers, the online gambling industry, and national Governments.”
Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) noted: “Today’s decision by the Commission is unhelpful in the fight against unregulated non-EU gambling services. National courts will continue to be confronted with gambling cases and the CJEU will continue to rule on questions from national courts. This decision sends a signal that the Juncker Commission fails to appreciate the need to underpin its ambitious Digital Single Market programme with solid enforcement and guidance from the Commission itself, taking its role as guardian of the treaties seriously.
“The question is not whether the Commission should create an internal market for online gambling or not, but the idea that regulatory and EU law challenges of an internet sector like online gambling can be resolved by member states individually, shows a baffling lack of understanding of the digital consumer by the Juncker commission.”
The RGA argues that current laws and regulations that unfairly restrict or bar online gambling in many EU Member States represent blatant breaches of EU law, adding that by taking this sweeping action to drop all of those cases the European Commission has ignored the need for more enforcement effort in a field that is inherently of a crossborder nature and cannot be resolved solely at national level.
Haijer added: “EU member states such as Italy and Denmark have set an example in designing a gambling framework which works: strict regulation and controls in combination with a level of taxation which encourages recourse to properly supervised services and a high level of consumer protection. However, we note that the gambling sector is not alone in complaining about the inaction of the Commission when certain other member states refuse to allow non-domestic services to operate on their territory. Today’s decision to close the cases does not change the legal situation and – as the Commission states itself – cannot be read as any form of “greenlighting” existing breaches of EU law in the Member States’ laws.”