EP_Strasbourg_hemicycle_l-galOn 17 February 2009, it also adopted a non-binding resolution on the same subject. On 14 October 2011, it adopted another non-binding resolution on the same subject. Most recently, on 10 September 2013, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution on online gambling.

Each time the Internal Market and Consumer Committee (IMCO) has decided to undertake such a report, it has given responsibility for the dossier to a different Parliamentarian from a different political group. Each time, there has been a division of MEPs across traditional party lines, but also between those who are fighting to defend national monopolies and those who are working for the goals of the Committee – the promotion of the internal market and consumer protection.

In the most recent report, MEPs from almost every political group represented in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee proposed amendments in favour of web blocking. They did so in full awareness of the fact that web blocking is being used by EU member states to protect national monopolies, to create barriers to the creation of a European market and to reduce choice for European citizens.

We were told informally by the European Commission that one Member State has introduced blocking as a targeted measure, with the specific intention of preventing access to British websites. According to the information from the Commission, the average payout for bets in the country in question is approximately 75%, whereas the average payout from a UK gambling site is approximately 90%. The government of the country in question wins though higher tax revenue, the gambling websites in the country win because they don’t have to compete with the British sites. The only losers in fact, are the consumers – and any benefits that could be gained from a liberalised, competitive, innovative European market are lost.

Interestingly, however, this is not entirely true, according to an unpublished analysis from the European Commission. Low-level gamblers would not bother to access a foreign site in a foreign language, so they are not impacted by the blocking. High-level gamblers are aware of the significant losses that come from using domestic services. As a result, high-level gamblers take the time and effort to circumvent the blocking system. The web blocking does not impact low level gamblers, it does not impact high-level gamblers. Yet, according to the text adopted by the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, the blacklisting of, and prevention of access to, illegal gambling websites constitutes a “best practice”. Best for whom, we do not know.

When the most recent text was put to the vote this week in the European Parliament, a campaign run by EDRi and its members successfully led to the deletion of the IMCO Committee’s proposal that “preventing access” to illegal gambling websites should be referred to as “best practice”. Remarkably, after a huge amount of cost in terms of the time of MEPs, assistants and Parliament staff, the final text adopted with a large majority in the European Parliament does not make sense on this point: “recommends the exchange of best practices between Member States on enforcement measures – such as on establishing white and black lists of illegal gambling websites”.

A whitelist of illegal gambling websites can only be understood as a list of illegal sites that must be approved for use in EU Member States. It is unclear if the illegal websites that are supposed to be put on the white list will be the same as the illegal websites that will be put on the black list.

A waste of time and money? You bet!

Analysis of the Committee report http://www.edri.org/gambling

Final Parliament Resolution http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=20130910&secondRef=TOC&language=en

(Contribution by Joe McNamee – EDRi)

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