Monday, 10 January 2011

Gambling markets in 2010 - a global view

This year started with a sigh of relief for UK-based operators, when, in January, the UK Government took away a competitive advantage for offshore businesses and proposed a licencing regime for foreign gambling operators. While the Chinese cracked down heavily on gambling a month later, the French rolled out their plans for ‘controlled liberalisation’ when ARJEL, the French authority in charge of online gambling, disclosed new licensing requirements. 

In March, a new Bill banning payment processors from accepting online gambling payments was signed into law in Norway. In the UK, with the general elections just a month away, the Horseracing Levy became an election topic in April when the Labour Party announced it would force offshore operators to contribute to the Levy and pay taxes, while the Conservative Party called the system ‘outdated’. 

While regulation at European-level seemed further away than ever, the Council of Ministers of the EU did manage to agree on a common definition of ‘illegal gambling’ in May. The European Commission (EC) finally closed a series of legal cases against Italy: on 5 May the EC stated it no longer had any objections against a new gambling law allowing Italy to open its online sports betting market to foreign operators. 

Attention shifted away from Europe in June when the Australian Government rejected the advice of one of its own commissions to regulate online gambling. Further up, the Antiguan Prime Minister was considering imposing sanctions on the United States following the long-standing dispute over Antiguan operators on the US market. The South African market came to an abrupt standstill when a court ruled on 16 August that online gambling operators, payment processors and internet service providers were in breach of the country’s National Gambling Act and they could no longer operate without the risk of prosecution. 

Hope in the US for the regulation of the market reached an all-time high in August when the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee approved HR2267, the ‘Barney Frank Bill’. Six months and an election later, however, it seems very unlikely online gambling will be legalised anytime soon. The optimism of August did encourage companies to strike deals with the US though. Sportingbet and the US Attorney's Office in New York reached a non-prosecution agreement in September. The London-based company paid the US a $33 million fine, and will not be criminally prosecuted for providing gambling services to US customers. A month later, the US announced it was going to put forward proposals to require financial institutions to report all electronic transfers in and from the US, even very small amounts of money, from 2012. This would make it much easier for law enforcers to pick up (illegal) gambling transactions. 

Back in Europe, the EC notified Romania in October it could not accept the country's draft gambling law. Only last month the new Australian Government surprised the gambling industry by appointing an expert panel while postponing the introduction of the controversial and much-talked about internet filters, possibly until 2012. This month, the new Danish law came under scrutiny of the EC, with the investigation undoubtedly to be continued in 2011.

Published previously in World Online Gambling. London, 2010. Copyrights apply.