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All-in April

Overview of the top gambling regulatory developments in April.

Australia

Following the Australian Senate’s decision in February to inquire and report on gambling reform, Free TV, the body representing Australia’s commercial free-to-air television broadcasters, published proposed amendments to the country’s Commercial Television Industry Code (“Code“).

Given broadcasting was a term of reference for the gambling inquiry and senators have previously expressed concern regarding the onslaught of betting odds and gambling advertisements, the proposals to restrict the promotion of live odds is not surprising. It is important to note, however, that the restriction only applies to sports betting and will predominantly impact commentators promoting live odds as part of a broadcast of a live sporting event. Advertisements by those other than commentators are still permitted subject to a few additional requirements (i.e. a responsible gambling message). The restriction does not extend to horse racing or greyhound racing.

At first glance, the headline obviously caused concern for industry stakeholders. However, when one digs down to the actual content of the proposed amendments, it is clear that other than some minor amendments to the content of advertisements, operators will still be free to promote before play, during any scheduled breaks and after play. The only party significantly impacted are commentators and therefore one questions how much of an effect the proposed amendments will actually have.

More information can be found at Australia: Free TV Proposes Ban on the Promotion of Live Odds

Belgium

Belgian courts first ruled on the validity of its blacklist in July 2012 after a challenge by bwin.party. A subsequent challenge by Bet-at-Home was also rejected in mid-January 2013, with the court asserting that it was legitimate to seek support from ISPs to block blacklisted websites on the basis such support was voluntarily supplied. With the Belgian gaming market showing no signs of liberalisation, the government continued with its restrictive approach in April by adding five more operators to an already 64 strong blacklist.

Despite the inconsistency of the Belgian regime with EU law, the proactive enforcement nature of the jurisdiction has appeared to curb the activities from unlicensed operators and encourage conformity with its regime. Looking forward, it is likely that Belgium will continue to pursue its restrictive approach.

Czech Republic

In 2012 the Czech government submitted a draft law for online gambling regulation to the European Commission, which should have replaced the country’s Lottery Act. However, as a result of the requirement to establish a Czech company with Czech share ownership, the Commission and Malta expressed concerns about its compliance with European law. It was originally understood that the Czech government disagreed with the Commission’s comments, but after a period of discussion, it has now been agreed that a revised draft will be sent to the Commission by June 2013, ensuring compliance with EU laws and creating a comprehensive online gambling regime. The revised law will be subject to a three month standstill period, but it is possible that a licensing regime could materialise in 2014.

For more information, please read Czech Republic: Is Gambling Law about to Liberalize?

Europe

Following the publication of the EU Action Plan on 23 October 2012, it was expected that enforcement action against Member States that ignore community law principles would gain momentum, and that there would be a greater degree of clarity and cooperation between Member States on gambling policy. However, Harrie Temmink, Deputy Head of the online and postal unit at the European Commission’s DG Internal Market and Services sector, confirmed that the Commission is unlikely to take legislative action against non-compliant online gambling regimes in the short term. There are several countries with infringement proceedings currently on-going, including Hungary, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands, but it is thought that the Commission want to issue decisions simultaneously rather than country by country.

This dialogue from the Commission comes at a time when European Parliament Member Ashley Fox, author of the draft report on online gambling (the so-called Fox Report), urged the Commission to take action against Member States infringing European Union law. The Commission’s viewpoint, however, seems to be in line with other members of the European Parliament. At a European Parliament committee meeting on 24 April, a number of members were supposedly unhappy with Fox’s need for Member States to comply with EU law and to take corresponding enforcement action in cases of non-compliance.

Moving forward, who can say how the Commission are going to deal with non-compliant Member States. On the one hand you have the Action Plan and the Fox report urging swift action for infringement cases, whilst on the other, the Commission and members of the European Parliament appear to want to stall the process, and in some cases not deal with it at all.

For more information on the Fox Report, please read EU: Will the Fox Report urge the European Commission to take legal action against Member States?

Italy

April has been an active month for the Italian gaming market. The relevant AAMS protocol providing new regulations for bingo was published; AAMS’ official schedule of permitted sports betting markets (Palinsesto) is set to be expanded following the publication of a draft decree; and the Director General of the Italian Gaming Authority has confirmed that no additional taxes will be levied on online gambling so that the regime can remain competitive and prevent an emergence of unlicensed operators; all of which are broadly positive measures for the jurisdiction.

The most interesting update, however, is a recent decision by the Italian Supreme Court. The Court provided an interesting interpretation of previous ECJ decisions regarding the freedom to supply services, stating that the ECJ did not rule that the Italian licensing regime was in contrast with EU principles but that its enforcement has been discriminatory in some instances. This will impact upon CTD’s (internet cafés connected to the foreign licensed platform of a bookmaker offering games in Italy) and local checks may now need to be performed by Italian police in order to better protect consumers and the public.

For more information on the developments in Italy please visit:

Italy: No new taxes on online gaming

Italy: The end of gaming CTD?

Italy: Bets out of Palinsesto – A Step Forward

Italy: New Bingo Regulations, the right approach to follow?

Spain

As expected, the Spanish authorities have announced it is going to regulate online slots and betting exchanges and operators will soon be able to obtain a local licence in Spain. First of all, however, two consultations will be running side by side in relation to the draft regulations but it is expected that both may become operational during the second part of 2013.

Given the unprecedented growth of the online slots market in Italy since it became live on 3 December 2012, it will be interesting to see if the Spanish market will follow suit.

For further details, please read Spain: Authorities announce that they will be regulating online slots and betting exchanges.

UK

The OFT has turned its attention to social games and reached out to consumer and parental groups in order to gain an insight into the effect of certain social games, especially those which have left parents footing a very large bill as their children are able to purchase expensive in-game features.

OFT’s investigation is timely given the current focus on the social gaming sector by UK Gambling Commission. The results of both investigations are eagerly awaited and it will be interesting to see if both conclude that consumer protection legislation adequately safeguards the consumer or if an additional layer of regulation is required.

For further information, please read UK: Investigation by OFT into free to play games.

And finally…

Belgium

Apparently betting on bird songs is very popular in Belgium. Birds are kept in covered cages and players place bets on the duration and the pitch of the bird song.