Gambling Trade Associations Call for EU-Wide Blacklist of Unlicensed Operators

ELA, EMPA and ECA co-author letter proposing the EU implement a whitelist and blacklist of operators in the EU.

EU Internal Markets and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier received a letter authored by three of the largest European gambling trade associations late last week, urging the commission to be proactive in shutting down illegal operations in Europe.

The letter is highly critical of the recent EU Action Plan on Online Gambling, even suggesting that some of its proposals will be “meaningless.”

The plan, published in October, urged, encouraged and promoted but fell short of providing a roadmap to an EU-wide regulatory system. Enforcement of existing Treaty obligations was partially promised and partially postponed pending the reports of an “expert committee” of regulators.

The letter points out what the trade groups see as other weaknesses in the plan. It is co-signed by The European Lotteries Association (ELA), European Pari Mutuel Association (EPMA) and European Casino Association (ECA), representing gambling providers across the EU.

They make two specific points: that the Action Plan fails to address the problem of illegal gambling providers, and fails to restrict advertising by such providers.

“The Commission and its services however do not seem to show that the fight against illegal gambling offers is a priority by addressing it,” the letter states.

“The widespread availability of illegal gambling … is a cross-border problem,” the letter goes on to argue.

They propose that the EU Commission be charged “with establishing lists of sites of authorised gambling operators … and illegal sites.”

In effect, the letter recommends that any business that operates online gambling in any Member State without the appropriate license be put on a blacklist. It recommends that access to these sites be blocked, as well as “financial flows” related to “illegal” gambling activities.

According to the letter, the proposal is to ensure “the protection of assets, the payment of winnings, the integrity of games or guarding against excessive gaming.”

Although couched in terms that imply that consumer protection is their highest objective, the specific issues raised are perhaps those that have the largest commercial impact on the associations’ members.

The EU Commission is not a body known for rejecting proposals that give it more power, so there is likely to be internal support for the letter’s suggestions. The fact that the EU Action Plan was postponed and when finally produced failed to live up to the expectations Michel Barnier had encouraged was the result of the widely divergent opinions of EU member states on these issues.

However, the Action Plan can be seen as the maximum that the Commissioner was able to get at the time, so the ELA, EPMA and ECA are likely to get no more than a holding response and the reassurance that the expert committee will consider these points in its report—in two years’ time.