EGBA: Europe requires greater cooperation on gambling resolutions

Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), outlines the trade body’s proactive approach to 2024’s regulatory agenda, which will likely be disrupted by general elections across multiple markets.

The EGBA remains committed to fostering cooperation among operators and key stakeholders to improve standards and harmonisation practices of dynamic and evolving European iGaming markets seeking regulatory resolutions.

SBC: Hi Maarten, great to catch-up ahead of ICE 2024. As a pan-European trade body, how is EGBA planning for key events of the new year?

Maarten Haijer (EGBA): As a pan-European trade body, the EGBA actively plans to ensure a strong representation of our members’ activities and interests at key events, including ICE 2024, in the new year. The European Safer Gambling Week will be later this year, and we will be putting most of our focus into delivering a week of activities across Europe to support and promote safer gambling.

In June this year, the European Parliament elections will take place, and we will be closely monitoring this important event in the EU calendar as it will also lead us towards the establishment of a new European Commission. Later in the year we also anticipate the positive conclusion to our proposal to standardise markers of harm at European level through CEN, the official EU standardisation body, and we believe this will be a very positive outcome for safer gambling in Europe.

SBC: How do you reflect on the industry’s 2023 proceedings in Europe, Did we see any regulatory resolutions or progress?

MH: Looking back at last year, positive regulatory resolutions and progress have been made in Europe’s gambling industry. Nevertheless, there remain areas where further improvements are required to establish a more harmonised regulatory framework throughout the continent.

Last year, we were delighted to see Finland finally begin the institutional process to move away from its fully exclusive monopoly model for online gambling. It is a game-changer really and we are particularly delighted with the outcome given that EGBA has been actively advocating for multi-licensing in Finland for many years.

Once the legislative process in Finland is complete, all EU member states will have some form of multi-licensing regulation as their model for regulating online gambling. Most countries have already adopted a fully multi-licensing system for all online gambling activity, but Poland and Austria still retain various degrees of monopolistic practices for online casino gaming. Political discussions also began this year about addressing the prohibition of online casino in France and we hope those discussions will ultimately result in the regulation of online casino which is open and fair in terms of the licensing system and procedures.

SBC: Observing the industry’s regulatory developments, what are the key areas of conflict concerning the EGBA?

MH: The EGBA observes several key areas of conflict in regulatory developments, with untargeted and intrusive measures, that might seem attractive for political reasons, but often are counter-productive. One-size-fits-all measures, such as blanket deposit limits for all players, do not work because players are not one size either, so we urgently need recognition that regulations need to be much more targeted towards those who need help.

We also think more needs to be done by regulatory authorities to protect the licensed operators in their market and prevent non-EU operators from targeting their citizens. In many countries, lotteries, that are either partially or fully state-owned, continue to enjoy exemptions from significant regulatory measures that apply to private operators, and we think this favouritism arrangement continues to be unfair, unreasonable, and unjustified.

We cannot continue to have a system of regulation in Europe where the rules are different when state revenues are involved. It is not good for consumer protection and it also distorts the market. The EGBA is actively working towards finding common ground on these issues. The overall regulatory challenge in Europe will be how to balance the protection of vulnerable customers with the need to protect the rights and freedoms of the vast majority of customers to spend their money as they choose.

SBC: The markets of Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands are tightening monitoring and record-keeping of customers. Is European iGaming entering its ‘era of surveillance’?

MH: While some countries may be increasing their monitoring of customer behaviour, it is important to ensure that these actions are proportionate and balanced, preserving both customer privacy and a high degree of consumer protection, all the while preventing the black market from becoming even more attractive to customers. In the UK, we currently see big discussions around customer affordability, I think regulators need to be careful not to go too far.

Citizens do not want to share their financial details with anyone, that is only human nature, never mind with their bookmaker. That is the reality. There needs to be more thought given to the potential negative impacts of measures that intrude too much into a customer’s personal life. For this to happen, we need regulatory authorities to take a more vocal role in policy making and push back more against measures which, while well intentioned, may do more damage than good.

SBC: Elsewhere, the gambling reviews of the UK and Ireland appear to be stuck due to political uncertainties. What are your observations of the respective developments of these markets?

MH: It is crucial for these markets to find stable regulatory outcomes that can provide legal clarity, a high standard of consumer protection, and sustainable market growth. The Irish bill requires much greater clarity in its legal definitions, we worry that there is still vagueness in the legal definitions which will create unnecessary problems of compliance and enforcement at a later stage, and we would like to greater recognition that sponsorships in sports will be protected.

We submitted detailed comments to the Minister outlining the best practices from other EU member states and we hope those will be taken on board. The industry wants the same outcome: a fair, safe, and predictable market.

SBC: In which specific disciplines of the iGaming sector, do you see a potential for cooperation between stakeholders?

MH: n recent years we are seeing much more cooperation across the sector. It is important that we all work together. There is great potential for cooperation between stakeholders from the various disciplines of the sector, including on safer gambling initiatives, data protection, technical standards, responsible advertising, cyber security measures, anti-money laundering, and the fight against illegal gambling activities. These are common challenges and collaboration is key to addressing them.

To improve collaboration, EGBA has several standard-setting industry codes which we will continue to encourage other operators outside our membership to sign up to and we also recently opened our membership options to suppliers, including payment providers, because we recognise the value of having a diverse membership and the benefits that can be realised by achieving better cooperation and representation across the entire sector value chain. EGBA also facilitates a platform for national trade associations to encourage greater information and best practices exchange at association level.

SBC: Ultimately, will 2024 be a year of resolutions or more frustrations for the European gambling sector?

MH: We hope that 2024 will be a year of resolutions for the European gambling sector, but it is difficult to predict with certainty, as this is such a rapidly evolving sector in terms of technology and regulation. One thing for certain is that it is essential that all stakeholders continue to engage in dialogue and work towards constructive solutions to achieve a fair, safe, and well-regulated market. Having said that, some sort of policy stability is needed. In recent years there has been significant regulatory upheaval in many countries, particularly Germany, and greater stability is needed in the next year.

Regulations obviously need to adapt and evolve, but some of the changes we are seeing, for example in Germany, have been significant and have been difficult for the industry to adapt to. Compliance costs are skyrocketing for many operators, and a better future is surely one where companies are using their resources to hire more safer gambling experts rather than compliance ones. One thing we will likely continue to see more of is consolidation across the industry and further mergers and acquisitions. The industry itself needs to focus on sustainability as a key objective: it is a good new year’s resolution and will bring with it many rewards.