At the threshold of the start of ICE 2007, it's time to measure the willingness of Europe's three private gambling associations to make one strong front: to merge . . . or even to speak with a single voice for the industry.
The European Lotteries by far have the best cards in their hands and were the masters of the playing field in the European Parliament and with the European Commission. Fragmented lobbying on the Service Directives and the country of origin principle, for instance, left the private opponents powerless.
I sent a list of questions to the three European betting associations: the European Betting Association (EBA), the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) and Verbandes Europäischer Wettunternehmer in Deutschland (the European Entrepreneurs in the Betting Sector, or VEWU).
The first reaction came from the EBA, which pointed out that it is going through a rebirth to become the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA). The new association has a fulltime professional team, and PartyGaming has joined bwin, Unibet, Expekt, Carmen media and others as a new lead member. The part-time head of public affairs of the EBA, Torbjörn Ihre, said he would appreciate coming back to me later with more comprehensive information.
The EBA is a Brussels-based nonprofit association that promotes the right under EU law for members based and licensed in one member state to promote their services in, and accept business from, customers in all other member states.
The EBA's members are Betbull, bwin, Carmen, Digibet, Digibet Wetten.de, Expekt, Globet, Intertops, Interwetten, Primebet, Unibet, Wettenleip.
The RGA was formed in 2005 following the merger of ARGO (the Association of Remote Gambling Operators) and iGGBA (the Interactive Gambling, Gaming and Betting Association). ARGO had been around since 2004 and iGGBA since 2002. The RGA has 35 members, plus an affiliate group of 15 companies made up of consultants, lawyers, etc.
Its 35 full members are Barcrest, BellFruit, Bet 365, Betfair, Blue Square, Cantor Index, Cashcade, Chartwell, Games, CryptoLogic, Eurogaming, Gala/Coral Group, Globet, Inspired Broadcast, Networks Limited, Ladbrokes, Leisure & Gaming, Littlewoods, Microgaming, Million21, Orbis Technology Ltd., Paddy Power, PartyGaming, Playtech, PKR, Ritz, Skybet, Sportingbet, Stan James, Stanley, Talarius, Totesport, Victor Chandler, Virgin Games, William Hill, 32 Red and 888.Com
Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the RGA responded to the following questionnaire:
IGN: What differentiates the RGA from the EBA?
Clive Hawkswood: On the headline issues there is probably very little difference between us, although traditionally, as the name suggests the EBA has focused on sports betting whereas we have sought to cover all forms of remote gambling. As for the detailed approach on different matters, it is difficult to say because, of course, we are not privy to their internal policies. As for overlaps in membership, I have not seen a recent list for either the EBA or VEWU, but I believe that one or two of our members also belong to the EBA. If you are able to obtain membership lists for all of the associations and place them side by side then the differences may become more apparent.
IGN: What differentiates RGA from the VEWU?
CH: Again I'd be surprised if the VEWU's aims, especially with regard to cross-border gambling, were markedly different from ours, but I don't really know enough about them to say with any accuracy what differentiates us.
IGN: How many staff and supporting staff do you have?
CH: We have three of us in the main RGA offices and a European adviser who has offices in London and Brussels.
IGN: Did you or do you cooperate with the EBA and the VEWU?
CH: There is an informal group that meets regularly in Brussels. RGA, EBA and VEWU are all part of that. In addition, we have worked with the EBA for some time with information sharing and sometimes with joint press releases. It is certainly in the interests of the wider industry for the trade associations to work together and to co-operate and co-ordinate action as much as possible. I hope that will continue.
IGN: Why don't you make one strong front and merge with the EBA and the VEWU?
CH: As we have worked with the EBA on various things over a period of time,we did suggest a merger, and there were some initial discussions on that front, but for whatever reasons the EBA decided not to pursue that option, and we respect their decision. However, as the merger between ARGO and iGGBA in 2005 demonstrated, it does not have to be a painful process and we would certainly be willing to consider merging with other groups if their aims and objectives were compatible with those of the RGA and, of course, if it was something that the members wanted.
The European Entrepreneurs in the Betting Sector is established in Brussels. Its president is RA Markus Maul, and its members are Cashpoint (Malta) Ltd., Digibet (Gibraltar), Goalbetter (U.K.), Happybet Sportwetten (Austria), Pagobet Sportwetten ( Austria), Primebet (Malta), Tipico (Malta) and TopSportWetten (Malta).
IGN has contacted the VEWU several times with no response.