EU Parliamentary Elections to Slow Any Action on IMCO Report

26 January 2009
A report from a European Commission committee could help shape the future of online gambling regulation in Europe, but not before a new European Parliament is elected this summer.

Continued conflict over restrictive gambling laws in certain member states compelled the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection, or IMCO, recently to examine the integrity of online gambling in the European Union

In its October 2008 report, written by committee member Christel Schaldemose, a member of European Parliament from Denmark, IMCO focused on several areas of contention regarding online gambling in the European Union, including transparency in markets, fraud prevention and consumer protection -- issues on which certain member states rely to justify maintaining a monopoly on gambling services.

Principally, IMCO is requesting a motion for a European Parliament Resolution to determine where the responsibility of online gambling regulation lies -- that is, with the European Union or with each individual member state.

In its report, IMCO said member states have a "legitimate interest in monitoring and regulating their gambling markets in order to protect consumers from fraud, money laundering and fixed games" and points out that operators have an obligation to abide by the "legislation of the member state in which they do business."

On the other hand, IMCO also stated that it does not believe the European Court of Justice should have a role in defining the European gambling market. Right now, 10 member states are in the throes of infringement proceedings at the commission, and a number of cases previously referred to the European Court of Justice were settled in favor of the free movement of gambling services across borders.

The committee's report ignited a firestorm of amendments from members of Parliament at both ends of the political spectrum.

In December 2008, 149 amendments had been submitted, some requesting the regulatory system be kept intact -- whereby the individual member states continue to license gambling products -- while others have called for the regulation of online gambling to be handled by the European Union.

"Some of the MEPs want to protect markets; others want to open them up," Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association, which represents European online gambling operators, told IGamingNews Monday. "This is why there are so many contrary amendments."

Of the 149 amendments, many are duplicates.

Others will be voted on, according to Mr. Hawkswood, whose organization has lobbied on the side of opening European markets to betting operators. Which amendments receive attention, however, will be determined by which political groups have the most lobbying power to sway certain members of Parliament, he added.

A vote is scheduled for Feb. 19.

Regardless, IMCO's initiative will most likely not become a bill anytime soon, Mr. Hawkswood thinks.

"Its status is more to inform or influence future action at the European Commission or European Parliament, so it puts down a marker rather than automatically leading to action," he said. "Anyway, there is no time for the parliament to do anything because the elections are in the summer. Bottom line is that this might help to shape future agendas but there is very little prospect of it leading to concrete action by the parliament for years."

Elections to the European Parliament will be held in the 27 member states July 4-7.

Click here to read the IMCO report.

Click here to view the amendments.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.