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Ari Last

Ari writes and reports about European gambling issues for Right2Bet, an organization dedicated to allowing EU citizens to be able to bet with whichever EU-licensed betting company they wish, regardless of in which member state that company is based.

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European Council needs to look forward, not back

25 May 2010

By Ari Last
Our attention was caught last week by the outcome of an EU Council 'progress report', though ironically, 'progress' is not the word we'd use if asked to describe the output.

Firstly, the report championed the use of financial transaction and ISP blocking in a government's attempts to block illegal gambling sites, which besides being unrealistic and difficult to enforce, ignores the fact that the more barriers you put up, the harder consumers will try to find a way around them.

Furthermore, when the legal alternative is so inferior to what is being offered 'illegally', the temptation for consumers to stray into the realms of the black market grows ever greater, and this is exactly the case in Member States where the monopoly provider is so inferior to the banned alternatives.

We find it difficult to comprehend that rather than focusing on progression and ways to work together with licensed private operators, certain Member States are ploughing more time and effort into devising ways of keeping them out.

The modern EU has no place for protectionist practices. Integration, collaboration and honest competition are the buzzwords of these times, and what's more, they are what Europeans want to be the beneficiaries of, not only in gambling but in most other industries and activities they partake in too.

The thought of European governments curbing their citizens' online capabilities in order to protect the monopolies that those same citizens wish to avoid using is troubling indeed.

The Council's report also sets out a rather vague description of what constitutes illegal gambling:

"Illegal gambling may be defined as gambling in which operators do not comply with the national law of the country where services are offered, provided those national laws are in accordance with EU Treaty principles,"

It is the final sentence of this description that we have difficulty with, after all how are we measuring whether or not the national laws are in accordance with EU principles?

We've seen on several occasions that Member States have been banning private operators, believing that doing so is in line with these principles on the grounds that a gambling monopoly ensures a higher level of customer security and crime prevention.

They've made these claims with absolutely no proof, yet in the past the Commission has accepted them as valid reasons for restrictive national legislation.

Therefore, rather than settle for the above definition what really needs to be ironed out, via a collaborative and transparent forum, is what, if any, are the valid reasons why Member States can run a gambling monopoly.

We believe that once these are determined, it would be far more difficult for Member States such as Germany and the Netherlands to ban competition on flawed and unfounded rationale.

The council's report was far from damning, and the apparent impetus behind clarifying Europe's position re online gambling is undoubtedly positive news.

Yet it is vital that throughout the consultation process - which will gain another shot in the arm once the Belgians take the Presidential seat - the parties involved focus on ways and means of moving forward and progressing, rather than initiatives – such as ISP blocking – which are aimed at maintaining an unsustainable and unreasonable status quo.

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