EU Bytes

Just across from our office here in Brussels, there are mini excavators racing across the top of an “old” office building, shaving off a floor at the time. It feels like that are filming part 215 of that famous drifting/racing movie series. Buildings in Brussels have been knocked down and re-built around the European quarter at an alarming pace, but I still think I am sitting in the nicest one. Why else would the representations of Bayer, the European Casino Association, the German Bundestag and Red Hat chose to stay in it?

As mentioned to you on several occasions, the online sector has become the primary source of gambling policy discourse at EU level, but the link between online and offline can be thick; with varying degrees across the Member States of course. The newest development? The European Commission has finally given its implementation decision to the European Standardisation body (CEN) to move ahead with developing data reporting standards for online gambling.

The CEN Technical Committee (CEN/TC) 456 on “Reporting in support of online gambling supervision” received its mandate at the beginning of April this year. Why is this interesting for the European Commission? It believes that in the absence of European regulation and common standards for the sector, each Member State has gone ahead and done its own thing. Therefore, it is looking to counteract unnecessary burdens to operators, suppliers and gambling authorities in terms of duplications. As set out in the mandate of the European Commission: “it is appropriate to minimise, where possible, avoidable administrative burden resulting from compliance with regulatory reporting requirements which entails additional operational costs, notably for small and medium-sized companies.”

Before you decide to either stand up to applaud the initiative or start throwing rotten eggs in Brussels, depending on whether you support an EU approach to gambling regulation or are an ardent supporter of the Member State (remember “subsidiarity”?) approach, I just want to highlight a couple of points.

Firstly, it is considered a voluntary tool to the Member States’ gambling regulatory authorities and which are to be introduced “without prejudice to the scope of competence of Member States in the regulation of online gambling and without imposing any obligation on them to introduce reporting requirements or to authorise or deny authorisation to any operators or suppliers.”

But, even though this sounds tame, links are made between the prospective standards and the raison d’êtreor foundation of what each Member State gambling regulation is based on. The Commission has set out that the standards should “achieve public policy objectives, in particular raising the level of player protection, including addiction prevention and the protection of minors, through more effective supervision”.

This will then always beg the question at political level of why a Member State would not implement the standards if they are for the benefit of society and their public policy objectives? Ask a subsidiarity principle supporter and he/she might explain that each country or region has their own regulation founded on their own experiences and culture. Therefore, using standards that don’t correspond to how the respective regulation has developed would be counterproductive. As regards the opposite camp, they might state that the more countries that apply the standards, the easier it would be to replicate their services to those other jurisdictions. It could make B2B services more competitive too, due to competing companies’ technology being tailored to the same requirements. I let you decide which of the two camps you feel more affiliated to.

So, what clues do we already have about what the content subject to the data reporting standards could look like? The Commission states that it should be well defined, not be unnecessarily complex and concentrate on information relevant for reporting purposes. A good starting point I guess. The European Commission furthermore does take note of already existent national reporting obligations when it comes to combatting match-fixing, anti-money laundering, adequacy of operators’ technical equipment so as to guarantee game fairness and data security, etc. To this end, some examples of information that could be subject to the reporting system could pertain to payment methods used, self-excluded players, the duration of game play, and GGR of the operator per reporting period per product.

What are the next steps? A second meeting is already scheduled for CEN/TC at the end of June of this year which will let us know more about the direction of the standards. This is also because a Work Programme is to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of September 2018. Note: Only once the Commission agrees with CEN on the programme, can it be implemented.

Before I forget, I did hint to the increasing affiliation between offline and online. How is offline gambling potentially affected if the reporting obligations of online gambling are the subject herein? Well, one aspect that comes to mind is when operators that provide services both offline and online use the same databases to capture a player’s behaviour that uses both channels.

Greetings from Brussels.