Schizophrenic report dashes single market hopes

9th November 2011 9:55 am GMT

RGA members will have left the Association’s AGM on Monday (November 7th) with any lingering hopes of a single European market left in the gutter outside Savoy Place.

The European Parliament is putting the finishing touches to an online gambling report that one of the MEPs working on it described as “somewhat schizophrenic”.

Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, a member of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee in the European Parliament, painted a bleak picture of the Strasbourg inner sanctum to the AGM.

The way Fox spoke in the past tense about a Parliament report, which will not be voted on until next week, suggested another opportunity missed.

Worse still, he is fighting to delete paragraphs that suggest the establishment of a sports betting right and another, which would allow member states to "draw on a wide variety of repressive measures...and the introduction of a regulatory principle whereby a gambling company can only operate (or bid for the required licence) in one Member State if it does not operate in contravention of the law in any other EU Member State".

He praised the work of the report’s author Jurgen Creutzmann but denounced the influence of “the same old faces and prejudices” of Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose and France’s Damian Abad.

“They both fail to appreciate that online gambling is a sector that is cross-border by nature,” said Fox.

Ever the good Tory, the irony of the current situation was not lost on Fox, who under normal circumstances finds himself as the sole voice arguing in favour of a Member State’s right to look after its own affairs.

“Unfortunately for you, there has been a complete role reversal,” Fox told RGA members. “Members who usually have a flagrant disregard for subsidiarity have suddenly found a new appreciation for the principle, using it as a tool to maintain state monopolies or punish the gambling sector.”

The RGA’s man in Brussels Wes Himes also managed to find some humour in his presentation of a fractured Europe featuring the goodies of Schleswig-Holstein and the baddies in Belgium and Finland.

Himes may have been in a humorous mood but his roll call of European regulation contained only one shaft of light - Denmark.

On the downside there’s the Parliament and its sports betting right, the Commission’s stasis on infringement proceedings, the threat of a massive legal battle in Germany, hope of a move to gross profit tax in France - but no movement, the nightmare of Greece (a popular theme recently) and obstacles to progress in Italy.

The only hope it seems is the industry’s guardian angel. A photo of the RGA’s chief exec Clive Hawkswood flashed up on the screen with a glowing halo photo-shopped above his head. It was a nice touch. Hawkswood deserves every plaudit going for his tireless and eloquent efforts on behalf of the industry but it is increasingly looking like he is fighting a losing battle.

He would never admit as much - it is a lobbyists job to be optimistic - but if the European Parliament will not stand up for the principles of the free market then you have to wonder who will.

It certainly won’t be the European Lotteries (EL), which has taken a remarkably narrow stance on the EC’s Green Paper. It might be easier to maintain a monopoly than to compete in a free market but EL members such as Dankse Spil and Lottomatica could surely outline some of the potential benefits to their fellow lotteries of a liberalised Europe.

It is hard to imagine their CEOs agreeing with the sanctimonious line peddled by the EL president Friedrich Stickler when he announced his organisation's position on the EC Green Paper.

“Civil society in Europe is strongly in favour of leaving the regulation and control of online gambling mainly in the hands of national governments and of effectively fighting the provision of illegal gambling services of which there is too much in the EU - to the detriment of consumers, public order and the funding of good causes,” said Stickler in a press release earlier this week.
However, it was not really the EL position. Stickler was endorsing the position of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an extremely important European institution that is so important Stickler’s press release had to state just how important it really is several times. Must be more important than the European Lotteries I guess.

“The EESC takes a strong stand in favour of consumer protection and calls for a stronger fight against the illegal supply that thrives from tax havens,” according to the EL’s release.
It is not entirely clear why Stickler felt the need to endorse the EESC position. The EL published its 124-page response to the Green Paper back in July. And if the EESC is really as important as Stickler claims it is then it probably doesn’t need his support.

However, as the former president of the Austrian Football Association, Stickler will have had privileged access to the inner workings of FIFA. So he probably knows a thing or two about preventing fraud and corruption.

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