The German Ministry of Justice has proposed decriminalising illegal gambling and making it strictly an administrative offence, but the regulator calls the proposal “incomprehensible”.
The plan, part of a position paper detailing a series of proposals to modernise the Criminal Code, has been opposed by legal system officials, as well as the Joint Gaming Authority of the Federal States (GGL) and the gambling industry.
The ministry wants to remove illegal gambling punishments from the Criminal Code because they are “serving no discernible purpose”, given that enactment of the interstate gambling treaty in 2021 provides substantial administrative penalties, the German Press Agency (DPA) reported.
Manipulating a game can still be prosecuted as fraud, money laundering is a criminal offence, and consumer fraud and tax evasion remain crimes, the ministry said.
But the GGL said the proposal is “incomprehensible” and risks harming the fight against illegal gambling as every tool is necessary.
Many providers of illegal online gambling are based abroad, and taking action against them “with the classic instruments of administrative law is not sufficient”, the GGL wrote in a letter dated December seen by Vixio GamblingCompliance.
Also weighing in on the move are the German Association of Judges, the police union and the federal government’s addiction commissioner.
The judges’ association argued that illegal gambling can be a contributor to gambling addiction and can involve minors.
It is also a specific part of organised crime and represents a significant source of income for criminals, it said.
The association, however, said it does not object to decriminalising participation in illegal gambling as its concerns “do not require the gambling participant to be punished to the same extent”.
Participants in illegal gambling currently face prison sentences of up to six months, while organising an illegal game of chance for commercial purposes can result in fines and a jail sentence of up to five years.
Gambling addicts are particularly at risk when participating in illegal gambling because of “high speed, lack of maximum usage limits and blocking options”, as well as a lack of protection of minors, addiction commissioner Burkhard Blienert told the DPA.
The police union said its opposition to the “highly problematic” proposal includes concern about prosecution for tax evasion lagging behind other important areas for prosecutors.
Justice minister Marco Buschmann told the DPA that potential fines under the gambling treaty are up to €500,000 ($547,000), which he called “anything but a triviality”.
Criminal activities surrounding illegal gambling will remain punishable, he said.
“I am firmly convinced that both law enforcement and law enforcement authorities continue to have every opportunity to combat such organised crime structures in this area,” he said.
But the GGL argues that deleting criminal sanctions for illegal gambling could lead to gaps in prosecution of money laundering.
The German Sports Betting Association (DSWV) said it opposes the proposed change.
“This would be harmful to both licensed operators and consumers. Germany already suffers from a vast black market,” chief executive Luka Andric said.
A spokesman for the German Online Casino Association (DOCV) reiterated that the ministry’s position paper is only a proposal.
“No actual legislation has been drafted by the ministry to implement it, nor has it been approved by the Cabinet or submitted to the Bundestag,” said spokesman Philipp Bauer.
Still, the DOCV “strongly believes that these criminal provisions should remain intact”, he said in an email. “We consider them to be essential in the fight against illegal gambling.”