Gambling is big business in Europe. The EU gambling market was estimated to be worth around €84.9 billion in 2011, with healthy annual growth rates of roughly 3%. With so many European countries desperate for economic growth, liberalising the gambling sector could be a source of much-needed public revenue to help fund hospitals, schools and other services.
Online gambling is by far the fastest-growing form of gambling, but it is also the one that poses the most ethical and practical challenges for legislators. Critics argue that the ease and convenience of online gambling makes it harder for addicts to resist. Yet how do you regulate online gambling within one country when people can log on to gambling websites from anywhere in the world?
In the Netherlands, the Dutch government has given up trying to ban online gambling. In 2011, the Dutch coalition government announced that a new gambling framework would be introduced in 2015, opening up the country’s online gambling market to licensed companies. More than 200 companies have already expressed an interest in a license, and the Dutch Parliament is expected to make a final decision before the summer.
Portugal has also decided to liberalise its online gambling market, abandoning its previous monopoly system and opening up its market to licensed companies. In Germany, however, online gambling is restricted to sports betting only, and the courts have seized winnings and fined people for taking part in “illicit online gambling”.
Should different EU countries should be able to decide for themselves what types of gambling they want to allow? To get a response, we spoke to Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA).
Unsurprisingly, he supported a single European approach to regulating online gambling. However, if this was not possible then he believed Member States should choose between implementing a licensing system or a monopoly (in other words, they shouldn’t ban it outright).
For another perspective, we also spoke to Harrie Temmink, Deputy Head of Unit of ‘Public Interest Services’, DG Growth, at the European Commission. He argued that each Member State is entitled to decide whether they want to prohibit gambling, or allow it with either a licensing system or monopoly system. However, he warns that there is a black market for online gambling, meaning that an outright ban may not work in practice:
With the rise of online gambling, is it even possible for individual EU Member States to uphold gambling bans? Or will bans merely lead to a black market for online gambling? Should all EU Member States have the same gambling laws? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!