The occasion was a “Fair Play for Gambling” breakfast discussion at the European Union Parliament, which was being chaired by Member of European Parliament Malcolm Harbour. Several speakers were critical of the inactiveness of the member states with regard to online gambling. The discussion was being held ahead of the vote on the report prepared last year by Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose. The report opposed liberalization of online gambling in Europe.

One of the key speakers was Professor Siegbert Alber, a former advocate-general at the European Court of Justice. Alber said that the European Commission had failed to introduce rules and policies on online gambling and instead was passing the buck to the courts. In his words, “It is a pity the commission does not have the courage to propose rules in this sector but would rather wait for court rulings.” He added that it was the responsibility of the member states to introduce a common European Union code on online gambling in keeping with the principle of providing a level playing field for goods and services across Europe. He insinuated that the politicians were hiding behind the natural delay that is associated with court proceedings. There is a backlog of ten such cases currently awaiting judgment.

Konstantinos Maragkakis of Stanleybet International also favored liberalization. He denied that a liberalized market would create a “free for all” or would cannibalize the revenue from the state lottery projects. He also said that painting all private enterprise with a black brush was unfair. The well regulated open online gambling market in the United Kingdom quashed the theory that the emergence of private enterprise would lead to fraud being perpetuated on the consumers. Stanleybet’s deputy director-general Adrian Morris added, “Lotteries and sports betting are different markets, I doubt there would be a lot of revenue lost [by the state lottery monopolies].” Sigrid Ligne, the Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association, said that the industry was prepared for regulation if it was done at the European Union level. However he deplored the fact that there was no movement and no consensus at the member state level.

If one goes by the views put forward by the members of the European Parliament then the whole discussion appeared to be fruitless. Harbour said that an impact assessment exercise was needed as was further research on the possible consequences of liberalization of the online gambling market. His statement, “I would also urge the commission and member states to make some progress on this issue” holds no promise for the online gambling industry. His colleague Emmanouil Angelakas was equally non-committal. Angelakas said that he would press for the creation of a parliamentary inter group to study “all aspects” of the issue after the European elections in June.