Online gambling consumer protection regulations among EU member states have been strengthened since 2018 but there is still significant fragmentation across European markets, according to a new study.
The latest findings are a follow up to the 2018 review of the implementation of European Commission Recommendation 2014/478/EU, an initiative that aimed to harmonise a high level of consumer protection across EU member states.
Both studies were prepared by researcher Dr Margaret Carran on behalf of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA).
Carran’s latest work shows “significant variations” in the implemented provisions across member states continue to exist.
However, these differences are primarily “granular details of the rules and not in the high-level provisions”, according to the study.
Convergence of the rules has been bolstered by significant changes in the past three years, most notably material amendments to regulatory frameworks in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Greece, Malta and Romania.
The Netherlands introduced a new licensing regime, ensuring online gambling is now formally permitted in all member states. Sweden and Germany have also introduced wholesale new overarching gambling regulations.
One major area of divergence highlighted in the study is how gamblers are added to the self-exclusion registers established by 16 member states, three more than in 2018, with some countries still not prohibiting gambling advertising from being sent to people on the register.
Maarten Haijer, the EGBA’s secretary-general, said in a press release he is pleased there are several areas where regulatory principles are converging but warned there is now increasing fragmentation in how the rules are implemented.
“This creates a complicated compliance and enforcement map for Europe’s gambling regulators and operators, while evidently also not benefiting the consumer,” Haijer said.
The EGBA secretary-general supports the introduction of a more standardised regulatory framework and said the study also reflects that more can be done to strengthen prevention measures across all EU member states, especially when it comes to signposting helplines and treatment centres.
The latest study uses additional data and new insights, as well as direct comparisons between 2018 and 2021 when the data collection method was the same.
With the UK’s exit from the EU, it is no longer covered in the study.
Some of the key findings in the new study include 17 member states now having a legal requirement to display a "no underage gambling sign" on gambling advertising, an increase of five member states since 2018.
Only 11 member states require operators to provide customers with the contact details of problem gambling helplines and/or treatment centres upon self-exclusion, which was a major issue revealed in the 2018 study.
All member states require online gambling operators to collect the full name and date of birth or age of all prospective customers. All but three also require the collection of residential addresses.
When it comes to overseeing gambling regulations, 16 EU countries now have independent regulators, with others such as Ireland in the process of establishing one. These regulators' most used enforcement tools are fines, licence suspensions and licence revocations.
The findings differ from the 2018 report, which concluded the objective of the recommendation had not been achieved, as Denmark was the only member state that implemented all of its recommendations.
In terms of detailed regulation of online gambling and practical application, the 2018 study determined they were substantially divergent between member states.
Despite the recommendations still not being fully implemented, the European Commission has shown no sign it will focus on implementing gambling standardisation among member states anytime soon.
Earlier this year, regulators vowed to continue pushing for increased cross-border cooperation, after the European Commission rejected calls to have the Expert Group on Online Gambling reinstated.
The expert group met for the last time in 2018, with critics saying the group made little high-profile progress on pan-European harmonisation since its inception.
The end of the expert group followed the controversial announcement in 2017 that the European Commission would drop all online gambling infringement cases, leaving key decisions about compliance with EU law to the national courts.
In 2018, Carran presented her earlier findings on the recommendation before in the European Parliament, where she similarly said they reflect a failure by the EU to harmonise a high level of consumer protection.