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Although Europe is very much regarded as a “single state” in terms of a fiscal connotation, and is to some extent governed by legislation passed by the European Union, the individual countries are still ultimately culpable for passing their own laws. This is evident within the gambling industry since there’s no legislation or regulation that standardises betting and gaming throughout Europe. As a result, maintaining the legalities of gambling, particularly online gambling, throughout the continent is quite a test. The European market is serviced by many of the leading gambling sites, but what’s allowed and what’s not can significantly differ from one country to another. 

There are several online gambling jurisdictions located in Europe, some of which are members of the European Union (EU), and thus subject to the various rules and regulations while others are autonomous. Each of these jurisdictions have an administration that’s responsible for endorsing gambling sites for licenses which allow them to offer their services legally while also regulating their licensees. In May 2004, Malta joined the European Union, giving licensees the supplementary benefit of being located in, and regulated by, a jurisdiction that formed part of the largest single market in the world. The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), originally known as the European Betting Association which is based in Brussels. is an organisation set up to try and achieve a fair, competitive, and regulated market for online gambling agents wishing to provide their services in Europe.

EU Member States, along the years, have not managed to reach an agreement on the harmonisation of gaming law. Each Member State is free to regulate iGaming as it deems fit known as the subsidiarity principle. Gambling services are not regulated by a specific regulation at EU level. Nevertheless gambling services are subject to a number of EU acts. In other cases gambling services have been excluded from the sphere of EU law. The administrative position at national level shows a very distinct picture across the European Union. Member States have regulated online gambling services in very different ways such as by banning them, by establishing a monopoly for the offering of online gambling services or by distributing licences for the operation of these services. Only a few Member States do not have any rules pertaining this service. On the other hand, the EC Treaty cites the fundamental principle of movement of services where one could say that an EU operator should be able to offer its services in all EU member states. The current legal status is that of an encounter between these two apparently opposing principles: that of free movement of services, and subsidiarity. Countries such as Malta take an open-market approach to the matter on EU iGaming regulation and have always held that iGaming is a service in terms of the EU Treaty. As a matter of fact, the Treaty does not make a distinction between iGaming and other services and it demands that all services must be managed in the same way. The Government and the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), the single regulatory body responsible for the governance of all local gaming activities, are also assuring that Malta’s voice is heard on a European level by upholding the country’s view on how the sector should be regulated. In Malta, the Remote Gaming Council speaks for the industry, while the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry hosts a business unit for iGaming.

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In 2004, Malta became the first EU Member State to ratify inclusive legislation on remote gaming, and the industry stakeholders considers Malta as one of the foremost tried and tested jurisdictions in the world. As jurisdictions try to catch up by following Malta’s regulatory approach, the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), together with the Maltese authorities, pursues its mission to establish the right environment for gaming operators to feel safe and protected.

The Council of the European Union, in its Conclusions of 2010 on the gambling and betting scheme in the EU Member States, identifies that Member States are challenged with various cross-border matters that needs Member States to work closer together. Collaboration between the Member States seems essential to evaluate the extent, prospects and mechanisms, in order to share particulars on gambling operators; to safeguard consumers, minors and guarantee the integrity of game; to reduce, where possible, any non-essential administrative burdens; to recognise and share best practices in connection to for example player protection, technological instruments for successful regulation and responsible gambling measures.

Online gambling varies from alternative service sectors on account of the societal risks involved, and issues spanning from consumer protection, protection of human health to the fight against organised crime and money laundering. The regulatory predicament is always the same, wavering from criminalisation to legalisation of betting, in a constant bounce back between opposite grounds concerning cultural, moral and even religious positions.  The full right of EU member states to regulate their own online gambling services does not mean that there is not an accurate duty to observe interconnected Union law by the national regulators. National regulation must be not prejudicial, in the sense that Member States shall not embrace any regulatory measure that would limit operators licensed in another EU member state. In fact, online gambling is subject to several EU secondary legislative acts such as the data protection directive, the directive on privacy and electronic communication, the unfair commercial practices as well as the directive on consumers rights. 

In Belgium, for instance, there are a number of regulated internet gaming products such as sports betting, horse race betting, casinos, and poker amongst others. Online operators need to collaborate with local casinos in order to fulfil the land-based establishment requisite; or alternatively, apply for one of the 34 F1 retail licences which can also cover the online (F1+ licence). The regulator recently instituted rules to prevent live casino products being provided to players unless the dealers are physically in Belgium. However, the prospect for EC infringement proceedings persists.

In France there are three main associations in charge of its regulation. The Pari Mutuel Urbain is concerned with horse racing, the Francaise des Jeux deals with lotteries and betting games, while ARJEL deals with online gambling. The French Government introduced a new legislative bill relating to online gambling in 2009, following requests from the European Union, and in 2010 they were officially legalised. They were sports betting (consisting of live betting, fixed odds betting, etc…), poker and horse racing betting. Licenses are issued by ARJEL to operators wanting to provide these services to French residents.

Compared to many other European countries, the gambling laws in Italy are reasonably tolerant. When many other European Union members were instituting or increasing constraints on gambling, Italy introduced legislation permitting companies to give sports betting services in retail locations and over the internet. Completely liberal systems, such as United Kingdom, on the other hand, do not place any hindrances and limitations concerning nationality of players and origin of online operators.

Operators found in the EU need to keep updated mostly with regard to the different technical standards in each European jurisdiction, the movement towards cloud computing, compelling various authorities involved and liquidity. Due to the continuous development of technology, which plays a major role within this industry, the various rules and regulations governing the sector are also evolving, thus generating new regulatory conditions that need to be taken into consideration. Technology is changing the way all parties involved within the iGaming sector examining the industry, thereby mounting the requirement for new regulations and even laws. It is within this context that iGaming operators need to up their game and continuously review the regulatory condition within Europe, keeping up with evolving tendencies within a particular jurisdiction which might influence their operations. 

It is argued and proven that whether iGaming is regulated or not, it will still subsist. Banning sites is not an option, as people will still find a means of playing. The only solution is to regulate iGaming – as Malta decided to do in 2004, and recently countries such as Spain, the UK, and the Netherlands, who have opened up their markets and offered the faculty to operators in acquiring an iGaming licence. It is crucial to supply consumers with a set of serious but sensible regulations by which they will feel adequately protected. Harmonisation of EU iGaming regulations would create mutual consumer protection rules despite where they play within the EU. Since iGaming is an international notion, the laws governing it should also be international. In absence of such, gamblers within Europe have a tendency to shift their business to operate from non-Member States.

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