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September is the AGA’s Responsible Gambling Month in the U.S.A., and, in this final post of our four part review, Bernard Aquilina, Enteractive‘s Responsible Gaming & Compliance Manager, looks at best practices and shifting regulations in European markets.

The future of safer gambling in Europe

In recent years, the European online gambling sector has witnessed remarkable expansion. Recent statistics indicate that the European online gambling industry is expected to surpass €30 billion in value by 2025. This growth is fueled by factors like technological advancements, the expanding reach of the internet, and evolving consumer choices. Moreover, there’s been a substantial rise in the number of online gamblers across Europe, with millions of individuals engaging in a diverse array of online gambling activities, encompassing sports betting, casino games, poker, and other options.

Such significant growth has, of course, also prompted an increased focus on responsible gambling and regulatory frameworks. In 2023, the drive towards ensuring consumer protection and addressing problem gambling is evident across various jurisdictions, with leading markets demonstrating diverse approaches to regulation.

Creating a unified European regulatory framework

The ongoing effort to harmonise online gambling regulations across European countries, led by the European Commission and supported by the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), aims to establish a consistent and fair playing field for both operators and players. A significant step in this direction was the adoption of the European Union’s “Recommendation on Common Principles for the Protection of Consumers in Online Gambling” in 2014, emphasising consumer protection and responsible gambling.

Despite progress, full harmonisation remains challenging due to the diverse cultural, legal, and regulatory approaches in European countries. Each nation maintains its own licensing, taxation, and consumer protection policies, creating a complex regulatory landscape.

Nevertheless, there have been notable achievements, such as the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, which unified data protection practices for online gambling operators. Additionally, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) is working on developing technical standards for online gambling to further facilitate harmonisation efforts. [1]

United Kingdom
The UK stands as a prominent market with a strong regulatory framework under the Gambling Commission. A focus on responsible gambling is clear, with initiatives such as Safer Gambling Month in October, aimed at promoting awareness and responsible practices. The UK’s approach currently includes stringent licensing requirements for operators, underlining the requirement for operators to set betting limits and promote responsible behaviour.

The government is in the process of seeking input on potential measures to enhance safeguards for individuals aged 18 to 24 when engaging in slot machine gambling. These measures may include the possibility of lowering stake limits to £2 or £4, as well as mandating that operators take a person’s age into account as a risk factor for gambling-related harm. In addition to the government consultations mentioned earlier, the Gambling Commission has concurrently released its own 12-week consultation regarding financial risk assessments. These assessments will require gambling operators to evaluate whether unusually high losses may potentially lead to harm.[2].

The reforms encapsulated in the White Paper are critical for any operator desiring to retain a gambling licence in the UK. Originally planned to start from October 31, adherence to the new guidance becomes mandatory for all licensees, emphasising the government’s commitment to fostering responsible gambling and shielding consumers from potential harms associated with the industry[3].  We are yet to see how this plays out.

The Netherlands
The Netherlands has recently made notable strides in its 
gambling regulation. The country lifted its online gambling prohibition and instituted an online gambling licensing regime from 1st October 2021[4]. This development signifies the country’s commitment to ensuring a regulated and responsible gambling environment.

Effective July 1st, 2023, the Netherlands put a restriction in place on gambling advertisements. This prohibition particularly addresses broad, indiscriminate gambling advertisements, while online advertising continues to be permissible, albeit under tighter regulations. According to these stipulations, advertisements are required to be directed solely at individuals who are 24 years of age or older.

Italy
Italy, characterised by a previously restrictive regulatory model, has embraced online technology in gambling markets. The adaptation points towards a shift in ensuring that the gambling environment is regulated, and consumer interests are safeguarded against potential risks associated with online gambling[5].

Agenzia delle Dogane e dei Monopoli is the body that governs the online gambling sector, and a surge in recent years in online casino games and sports betting has necessitated refined regulations. The current legislative framework in Italy emphasises advertising limitations and responsible gambling initiatives, particularly targeting younger audiences and frequent mobile users.

Malta
Malta positions itself as a leading jurisdiction in Europe for iGaming, with a focus on enhancing consumer protection. The Malta Gaming Authority oversees the provision of fair, responsible, and safe gaming, including regulating suspicious betting activities in the sports betting sector. 

The MGA is dedicated to staying abreast of current trends and ensuring a secure and safe gaming environment for customers. As of January 2023, amendments to the Player Protection Directive have been implemented. These amendments encompass various aspects, including licensees’ responsibilities regarding their responsible gaming policies and procedures.

They also introduced additional criteria for identifying potential harm, which licensees must take into account when establishing effective measures to identify and address problem gambling. Additionally, the amendments address provisions related to reinforcing real-money gaming and enhancing staff training.

Sweden
The Swedish Gambling Authority, Spelinspektionen (SGA), has implemented new measures to enhance oversight of gambling providers. SGA will now be able to gamble incognito to monitor gambling companies more effectively. Payment service providers will also have the authority to block transactions involving unlicensed gaming firms. These changes, part of amendments to the Gaming Act, came into effect on the 1st of July 2023.

Additionally, gambling companies will be required to share information with the police during investigations into gambling-related crimes and to prevent match-fixing. These changes aim to create a healthier and safer gaming market in Sweden.

The existing Swedish Gambling Act already includes social responsibility measures, such as self-imposed gambling limits, age restrictions, and prohibitions on credit and bonus offers, to prioritise social and health considerations in the industry. Source [6]

Finland
At last, the news we’ve eagerly anticipated – Finland! We now have insight into the country’s future approach to online gambling, with regulation anticipated by 2026. The government has made it clear that they see the adoption of a licence-based model as a means to enhance the regulatory system. They’ve provided further details, highlighting how this approach would bolster the resources available to the regulator and underlining their commitment to combat money laundering and safeguard sports integrity.

Additionally, Finland intends to establish a unified self-exclusion platform that encompasses all gambling portals. Moreover, the government will enforce guidelines that stipulate marketing must adhere to standards of “moderation and responsibility” concerning content, visibility, and frequency.

Denmark
Denmark has instituted a well-rounded regulatory framework for online gambling.
The Danish Gambling Authority actively monitors licence holders’ compliance with responsible gambling requirements. They investigate instances where excessive gambling occurs without intervention. Before participating in any game, players must be informed of the minimum gambling age (18) and educated about responsible gambling and its potential harm, with information developed in collaboration with treatment centres. Players must also receive contact information for multiple recognized compulsive gambling treatment centres. [7]

Germany
Germany, like Italy and Sweden, previously had a very restrictive regulatory model for gambling markets. However, the country has acknowledged the role of online technology in shaping the gambling industry and has taken steps to ensure a regulated environment that prioritises consumer protection[
8].

The country introduced the Interstate Treaty on Gambling in 2021, as a comprehensive legislation addressing online casinos and sports betting. The focus is on implementing strict player protection measures and controlling unauthorised gambling offers. Young adults and mobile users form a significant portion of the gambling demographic in Germany, requiring more tailored regulatory interventions.

Spain
Spain has made regulatory changes, particularly concerning sports betting. Advertising restrictions aim to protect vulnerable segments, including younger populations who are increasingly participating through mobile platforms. The influence of social media in Spain’s gambling scene underscores the importance of comprehensive regulations.[
9]. Such regulations highlight Spain’s commitment to safeguarding players while facilitating the growth of the iGaming industry.

The Directorate General for the Regulation of Gambling (DGOJ) is currently seeking input on the concept of implementing a shared deposit system across all operators that a single customer engages with, aimed at mitigating gambling-related harm. This consultation will remain open until October 16, 2023.

These discussions follow earlier amendments this year that compelled licensed operators to closely monitor the risk profile of players under 25. It’s important to note that players who accrue net losses of €600, or €200 if they are 25 years old or younger, over a span of three consecutive weeks, will be categorised as high-risk individuals. Operators are obligated to transmit a cautionary message to those at risk and provide a monthly overview of the player’s betting activities. If a player fails to respond within 72 hours of receiving the message, the operator must suspend the player’s account. [10]

France
In France, Bill 1248 introduces proposals for the establishment of a regulated online casino market. Article 2 of the bill specifies that this initiative would run through January 1, 2030. Subsequently, the market would expand beyond its existing casino licensees, allowing other interested operators to offer online casinos.

Presently, online casinos are prohibited in all forms in France. The country permits internet sports betting and horse racing wagering through authorised operators and licensed land-based casinos.

Bill 1248 underscores that evolving player preferences have shifted towards online gambling. However, the current illegality of internet casinos has compelled consumers to gamble on offshore, unlicensed websites that lack protective measures. The bill argues that legalising online casinos and granting licences to approved operators would establish a safer gaming environment for players and contribute additional tax revenue to the country. [11]

Under the jurisdiction of ANJ (The National Gambling Authority), overseeing both online and offline gambling, the country is vigilant about responsible gambling policies in casinos, online platforms, and betting venues. The regulatory framework in France is meticulous, addressing the diverse gambling offerings and focusing on protecting varied audience segments, including the youth engaging through different devices[12].

Where do we go from here?
The continual evolution of online gambling in Europe is marked by the emergence of a plethora of responsible gambling practices proliferating across the leading markets. Every jurisdiction distinctly showcases a steadfast commitment to addressing and mitigating issues related to problem gambling through meticulously tailored regulatory frameworks. This diversity in regulations across various countries underscores not only the complexity of the industry but also the nuanced, multifaceted approaches adopted by each market to safeguard the interests and well-being of the players.

These regulatory frameworks are designed to respond to the unique challenges and needs of the local gambling landscape, reflecting the specific cultural, social, and legal contexts of each country. Furthermore, the adaptive nature of these regulations signifies the efforts of the European nations to stay abreast of the rapid technological advancements and the changing dynamics of online gambling, ensuring a secure and fair environment for the players.

While the ongoing efforts aim to establish a consistent and fair playing field across European countries, the journey towards harmonisation is still in progress [12]. The adaptive nature of these regulations signifies the collective endeavour to stay abreast of technological advancements and the evolving dynamics of online gambling, but the road to a unified framework is paved with challenges and complexities inherent to the diverse European landscape.