The Gaming industry has more challenges than most related to compliance and consumer protection. First, like most business that move large amounts of money, they must comply with Anti-money laundering regulations and protect their business against fraud. Second, they must put barriers in place to ensure that only people of legal gambling age use the service. Third, they must also protect consumers from themselves, specifically, help block problem gamblers from overusing services. Balancing all these objectives is difficult.
European Commission Michel Barnier has just published the culmination of two years of regulator meetings with guidelines for a common level of consumer protection and advertising in online gambling across the EU. Barnier urged the European Union’s 28 member states to match the commission’s ambition for a “high level of consumer protection”, although the list of guidelines is not legally binding.
Online gambling operators said they already follow similar responsible gambling guidelines and welcomed the move to cut down on “unnecessary duplication” for companies with multiple licenses. Not surprising based on the spirited debate about most gaming regulations, early indications are that the guidelines will be fully adopted by some countries and resisted by others.
Italy’s chief remote gambling regulator called it a very welcome “list of best practices”, and said Italy would look to fill gaps or improve its own regulation with the recommendation. The list of 54 guidelines will form part of Barnier’s legacy in the gambling sector as he comes to the end of his five-year term as Internal Market commissioner later this year. Barnier said: "Today's recommendation delivers one of the core elements of the commission's 2012 action plan on online gambling services. “We now look to the member states, but also to online gambling operators, to match our ambition for a high level of consumer protection throughout the EU in this fast growing digital sector.”
Italy’s head of remote gambling regulation, Francesco Rodano, said the Italian regulator would have a chance to adopt the guidelines through the Delega Fiscale law being implemented this year. He said: “The recommendation, being a list of best practices, represents a great opportunity to improve our internal regulation.”
An expert group of European regulators invited by the commission first met in February 2012 to help draw up the recommendation, and Rodano said the outcome was this “invaluable benchmarking work”. “It is true that the recommendation is not legally binding, but at the same time it represents the political manifesto of the commission in this field, so the impact cannot be underestimated,” he said.
The UK Gambling Commission said the recommendation “appears broadly consistent with current practice in the UK but we will examine it in more detail over the coming months”.
But officials from Belgium’s gambling regulator questioned how valuable the recommendation would be given that it is “non-binding” on member states.
Peter Naessens, head of regulation at the Belgian Gaming Commission, said: “We are not convinced that this recommendation is the answer to the current challenges of member states that want to maintain a sufficient level of control on the legal online market.”
The guidelines do not stop countries from enforcing stricter measures to regulate the legal gambling market. The recommendation also sets guidelines for the protection of minors, identity verification, self-exclusion and information on gambling websites. The focus of the guidelines is on online gambling, but some also apply to land-based gambling, including identity checks, limit-setting and information displays about responsible gambling, according to an explanatory note. One clear take-away for gaming businesses, the pressure will continue both through required regulations and suggested best practices to know your customer and protect them when necessary. Identity verification will continue to be an important part of this business process.