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Brussels, 13th October 2010

‘Balanced’ Barnier Sheds Light On Green Paper In Brussels

Extract from GamblingCompliance : Daniel Macadam

Figures from across the European gambling industry breathed a sigh of relief yesterday, as European Commissioner Michel Barnier delivered a ‘balanced’ speech about his much anticipated Green Paper.

The Internal Market Commissioner was speaking publicly for the first time since February about the discussion document that will trigger an EU-wide consultation on internet gambling.
The Green Paper would be submitted to the European Parliament very soon, Barnier said, and was keen to stress that he would approach the debate during the consultation ‘without any preconceived ideas and without prejudice’. Immediately after the speech in Brussels, representatives for state monopolies and private operators agreed that Barnier had pushed forward progress on the much-anticipated report while reconciling some divergent interests.

"It appears that the Green Paper is now much closer than we had thought," said Ron Goudsmit, chairman of the European Casino Association.
Barnier also stressed the importance of the Schaldemose report from last year‘s European Parliament, and the need for ‘coherence’ on gambling policy stressed in European Court of Justice decisions from ‘Santa Casa’ through to the recent German and Austrian rulings.
There was also a message that if jurisdictions cannot handle internet gambling themselves, then he would pursue pan-European legislation.
If member states are capable of efficiently stopping their citizens from accessing illegal gambling sites, Barnier said, then their ability to protect their population is not seriously questioned.
"However, if it appears that, despite all the efforts by member states, an illegal offer continues to be available, then the question of defining a number of rules offering a minimum degree of protection at European level on the whole European territory could be asked," he said.
Philippe Vlaemminck, legal counsel to European Lotteries, said that this principle of ‘subsidiarity’, which Barnier finished on, was a central message.
He was essentially saying: "If member states can regulate that, I will leave it to them. If not, I will intervene'," Vlaemminck told GamblingCompliance after the event.
Everything was in the speech, but it was very careful and balanced.

It showed that, contrary to [previous Internal Market Commissioner] McCreevy, Barnier‘s Green Paper will take up responsibility for the entire sector.

The reaction from private operators was one of pleasant surprise, although there were some qualms about Barnier‘s statistics on unlicensed operators.
Barnier‘s speech was more balanced than we had feared and leaves all the options open, Clive Hawkswood, president of the Remote Gaming Association lobby group, told GamblingCompliance.
We certainly question some of the statistics that he used, but they don‘t undermine his message.
Barnier‘s reference to 15,000 gambling websites across Europe exaggerated how much of a problem online gambling is, according to Hawkswood, since the market share of the vast majority of those is minimal.
Momtchil Monov, an attorney who represents private gambling operators for Brussels-based Ulys, argued that Barnier‘s commitment to balance would make the process move very slowly.
"It was the speech of a politician. This is how they work - taking time to consider everybody‘s views and be seen to talk to everybody," Monov added.

The Commissioner‘s address came at the end of a tightly scripted day in which regulators and politicians from across Western and Central Europe agreed that some form of EU-wide co-operation on internet gambling was necessary.
The sticking points of taxation levels and whether to adopt a monopolistic or market approach would ultimately hinder full harmonisation, experts agreed in the morning session.
"While we are looking forward to the publication of the Commission‘s forthcoming Green Paper later this year, I suspect it will pose more questions than answers," Paul Bolt, director of sport and leisure at the UK‘s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said.