Europe’s online gambling market has been jumping from strength to strength over the past several years and it is only poised to grow larger as technology servicing the sector becomes more sophisticated and the general demand for online services, including betting and gaming ones, keeps growing.
Although providing correct data about the actual size of the European (and the global) online gambling market could be a rather challenging task, it is believed that Europe’s online gaming and betting industry accounted for more than a half of the global Internet gambling sector in 2017. That sector was estimated to be between €38 billion and €40 billion last year, according to various sources.
Here it is also important to note that that figure represented regulated operations. However, the lack of proper regulations in an enormous number of jurisdictions not just in Europe but also in the rest of the world has pushed Internet betting and casino practices deeply underground, thus creating a behemoth black market the true size of which simply cannot be estimated.
Another important thing that needs to be taken into account is the fact that as European regulated operations accounted for half of the global market, the continent’s four biggest regulated markets in terms of population – UK, France, Italy, and Spain, might have represented around a half of Europe’s regulated gambling space with collective revenue of around €8.6 billion.
The first half of the year has been an eventful period for Europe’s online gambling scene, with regulatory developments in both already regulated markets, markets that seem to be averse to change, and markets that are on the cusp of regulation. It has been just days ago that it has become known the UK plans to increase online gambling taxes to offset losses that will be incurred by the launch of a massive crackdown within the country’s land-based gambling industry.
Earlier this year, Norway announced that it would stick to its monopoly system by rolling out a set of rules that would introduce clarifications about the illegality of unlicensed gambling services provided by international operators.
Meanwhile, Sweden has completed almost all the necessary steps toward the liberalization of its online gambling market, and the country’s new law that will officialize that liberalization is now set to come into force at the turn of 2019.
Last but not least, several jurisdictions have announced that they are planning to change their existing gambling advertising rules, thus aiming to curb the promotion of gambling products and services across media.
The latest events from Europe have thus shown that the online gambling space on the continent is dynamic and ever-changing, but it is yet to be seen how these events will affect its growth in individual countries and globally.
To provide additional viewpoints on the latest developments across Europe’s online gambling scene, Casino News Daily has reached out to legal specialists Tal Itzhak Ron and Stephanie Attias from Tel Aviv-based law firm Tal Ron, Drihem & Co., who have provided their brief comments on the current state of the industry.
According to Mr. Ron and Ms. Attias,
[t]he online gambling sector is growing like never before and will continue to prosper thanks to new technologies which continue to increase business opportunities. However, such innovation needs to be followed scrutinously by appropriate legal mechanisms and barriers to keep the gambling environment safe and responsible.
This year has been a year of change for Europe’s online gambling landscape. Regulation has become more and more frequent in numerous European countries.
While some EU countries, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, have decided to establish official regulated markets, Nordic countries seem to disagree on whether the monopoly model is suitable for the online gambling landscape. Indeed, while Norway confirmed that the monopoly model was best suited for its residents in terms of carrying out safe and socially responsible gambling activities, Sweden seems to want to end the iGaming monopoly model by acknowledging the importance of introducing a proper licensing system in relation to the provision of gambling services.
Sweden’s Gambling Re-regulation Progress
The re-regulation and liberalization of Sweden’s iGaming market is among the biggest online gambling stories of this year. The Swedish national legislator, Riksdag, approved earlier this month the nation’s new law, titled Re-Regulation of the Gambling Market (En omreglerad spelmarknad) to thus open the local market to international operators.
It can be said that the country’s gray market has been thriving over the past several years and it is believed that the new regulatory regime, set to take effect on January 1, 2019 would actually result in the creation of one of Europe’s largest regulated markets.
Sweden’s whole gambling market totaled SEK22.6 billion (approximately €2.2 billion) last year. Unregulated operations accounted for nearly a quarter of that market with reported gross gambling revenue of SEK5.5 billion (approximately €533 million).
Following the necessary approval by the Swedish government, the new law now needs to survive a three-month standstill period in the European Commission. As mentioned above, it is anticipated to take effect on January 1, 2019. It would allow foreign companies to apply for licenses for the operation of online gambling services.
Lotteriinspektionen, the country’s gambling regulator, will be responsible for reviewing and granting the licenses under the new regime and also for overseeing the liberalized market. The regulatory body has announced that it would begin accepting license applications from August 1, 2018.
Commenting on the upcoming changes in Sweden’s iGaming space, Mr. Ron and Ms. Attias pointed out that:
[the] new regulation will test how well operators can manage gambling activities in a safe and responsible way, which will increase players’ trust. Indeed, Swedish players will prefer to play on regulated gambling websites, instead of unregulated and often dangerous websites.
However, we are also seeing that such regulation could end the iGaming monopoly currently in place. This is no surprise, since the Swedish government already tried to attract foreign online gambling companies which operate in other European countries and have shown a growing share of revenue from online betting due to good regulations.
Norway Keeps Existing Monopoly
While Sweden is just several months away from scrapping Svenska Spel’s monopoly over the provision of most of the gambling services that are legal under the country’s regulations, another Scandinavian jurisdiction is determined to keep its gambling monopoly as the most socially responsible model.
Earlier this year, the country’s government announced and swiftly approved new rules that aim at preventing unlicensed online gambling companies from targeting Norwegian players. The new regulatory system will also look to block transfers of money related to online gambling. Under the new regulations, the country’s regulator Lotteri- og stiftelsestilsynet will be authorized to require reports from banks and other financial institutions if it suspects that gambling-related money is transferred by and to Norwegians.
The new rules were sent for review by the European Commission, which traditionally does not receive too tight online gambling frameworks promoting the monopoly model very well.
Upcoming Challenges for the Online Gambling Industry
Based on developments from the past several months, it seems that new taxes, looming gambling advertising crackdowns in a couple of European jurisdictions, and the newly introduced GDPR regulation will have imminent unpleasant effects on the industry for various reasons.
The UK government confirmed earlier this month that it would roll out a higher tax on online gambling services provided in the country in a bid to offset the negative impact a looming crackdown on the highly controversial fixed-odds betting terminals would have on the Treasury.
The government has agreed to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2 from £100, a measure that anti-gambling groups and a number of British MPs have long been calling for as a necessary one, as the number of people affected by gambling addiction triggered by betting on the machines has increased tremendously over the years since their introduction across UK betting shops.
The crackdown on the gambling devices, while considered a needed move, will result in the Treasury losing several hundred million pounds in taxes, which the government will look to offset with higher levies on the country’s flourishing online betting and gaming sector.
In a different wave of stories from the past several months, it has become known that Italy, Bulgaria, Norway, and Belgium have been few of the European countries where local governments are planning to crack down on gambling advertising.
Italy and the recently announced a looming clampdown on the promotion of betting and casino services across local media outlets might have come as the biggest surprise among the above group of European countries. The online gambling sector in the country has been blossoming over the past several years and its heavy promotion has certainly boosted that growth.
However, Italy’s new coalition government has stated that it would look to curb the widespread provision of gambling services over social responsibility concerns and that it would start with advertising.
According to Mr. Ron and Ms. Attias, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) regulation would prove a bit of a challenge for the online gambling industry. The 261-page legal document took effect late last month to address issues related to the use of personal data belonging to citizens of the European Union.
Commenting on the new regulation, the two legal specialists said that:
The newest regulatory challenges most companies are currently facing involve complying with increased Data Protection Laws, such as GDPR (EU General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679). Indeed, such laws are changing the way businesses operate, and Operators will need to obtain significant legal advice to make sure they are using their best efforts to comply with the requirements set by such Data Protection Laws. The changes involved, include: updating privacy Policies, Terms & Conditions, Cookies and many more legal obligations to make sure data is protected and processed in a secured way.
The European online gambling space certainly enjoys rapid growth in terms of revenue generated and interest from gambling customers. However, it can be seen that growth is accompanied by regulatory challenges and these, while aiming to prevent unregulated and illegal operations from being conducted, are oftentimes having the exact opposite effect of making the regulated sector less attractive and pushing players to alternative, black markets. The European and the global gambling markets are currently being shaped but the need for proper and balanced regulations is clear. It is now up to policy-makers, regulators, and industry stakeholders to achieve that balance.
About Tal Itzhak Ron and Financial Jurist Stephanie Attias
Advocate and Notary Tal Itzhak Ron – LLB, BSc, MSc, International Master of Gaming Law (IMGL), a Financial Entertainment, i-Gaming and Crypto veteran, working with the biggest names in online gaming and financial trading since 2003. Tal graduated from Haifa University School of Law and Faculty of Computer Science in 2001, and while working as a software developer at the publicly-traded software company Ness Technologies, has further obtained a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from Bar Ilan University in 2006. Tal founded Tal Ron, Drihem & Co., Law Firm 15 years ago, focusing from its start on Online Gaming, Fin Tech, Hi Tech, and Ad Tech, quickly becoming one of the first international firms practicing solely on these areas and one of the best known names on the market. His firm today advises the world leading operations, affiliates, platforms and governing bodies in Europe and Asia, and is considered the first point of contact for entrepreneurs setting up and optimizing their operations in the online space.
Financial Jurist Stephanie Attias – Graduated from Fordham University School of Law (New York), with an LL.M in Banking, Corporate and Finance Law, and from the Faculty of Law in Nice (France) with a Master of Laws in Business Law and Economics, followed by a Master of Finance in Financial Engineering with Magna Cum Laude Honors. After working at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in New York and in the prestigious law firm Gide Loyrette Nouel, both in London and Paris, Stephanie joined Tal Ron Drihem & Co., Law Firm in 2012 as Head of Financial Law and Regulation, where she advises the top tier of financial technologies and gaming companies.