EU Bytes

My esteemed Editor, Jon from Casino International and I have decided to try something new. An inherent wealth of my role in Brussels and across Europe is the network I am privileged to have access to; no matter whether business partners or Members of the European Parliament whom I have worked together with on specific dossiers. So, why not organise and include an interview in my articles every now and again so that you see their perspective? Jon and I are all about “sharing is caring”.

This time round, I would like to introduce you to the one and only Peter Wilding. You might have seen him regularly on the BBC, not only because the Oxford Dictionary confirmed him as the “inventor” of the word Brexit, but because as a lawyer, lobbyist, columnist and highly inspirational speaker, he has held roles such as Media and Policy Director of the UK Conservative Party in the EU and regularly writes for various national newspapers. Peter is now launching his own brand – Peter Wilding: Smart Power – whereby he provides solutions for government, business and individuals to align future regulatory and reputational trends with their interests by matching past lessons with present challenges, ambitions and capacities. So why not tap into some of his skills to look at one big theme affecting the gambling sector: In light of Brexit, what will happen to Gibraltar?

At the end of the interview I will, as always, give you an update on other aspects of EU gambling-related developments, more specifically on the blurred lines between gaming and gambling.

Interview with Peter Wilding

G. Cezanne: Peter, good to have you here in our Brussels Time & Place offices.

P. Wilding: Good to be here.

GC: Let’s get straight into it, shall we? How would you characterise the state of Brexit negotiations at the moment?

PW: A potentially simple divorce soured by the UK’s unrealistic plan to leave the marriage but keep access to the family home. This has arisen because the Brexit negotiations have been plagued by four main problems:

  1. The failure of the UK government (HMG) to accept an off-the-shelf arrangement rather than seek a bespoke deal.
  2. The failure of HMG to understand the importance of the Northern Ireland border situation.
  3. The failure of HMG to reconcile the political tensions within the governing Conservative Party and with the Democratic Unionist Party.
  4. And, the failure of the political and media establishment to inform and educate themselves and their publics about the detail of what is the largest foreign policy revolution since 1945.

GC:So, the UK government is really doing a “good job”.


GC:Yes, but things are usually the result of context created by past decisions. If we take some steps back and look at the bigger picture, where do you think the seeds of the problems lie?

PW:The referendum was a lightning flash that revealed (to the shock of the establishment) a country divided by class, age, education and culture. The belief that the UK was the united, prosperous, liberal and confident nation celebrated in the 2012 Olympics proved an illusion.

The failures I spoke of have also demolished residual confidence in a political system which was revealed as frankly incompetent, unstrategic and, because now both main parties are in the hands of their extremes, incapable of creating a national consensus. This is evidenced by the failure of David Cameron’s government to prepare an agreed departure plan in the event of a prospective Leave victory, the failure of Theresa May’s government to do the same before triggering Article 50 on March 29th2017 and the failure of ministers responsible for the Brexit negotiations to focus on rebuilding the UK’s diplomatic position in Europe instead of plundering it for domestic political and media advantage.

What is worse is that the establishment are at sea in a world where the liberal democratic values the UK fought for and institutionalised in the post 1945 global order are being challenged by both new state models from the East and nationalistic Trumpism from the West. When the UK would be expected to unite with its allies to defend this order, it is essentially complicit in abandoning it.

GC:Looking more specifically at Gibraltar, the Rock has obviously been a key issue of the Brexit debate, not least with regard to UK relations with Spain. How is that looking?

PW:The EU stated in its April 2017 guidelines: “After the UK leaves the EU no agreement between the UK and the UK may apply to the territory of the Gibraltar without an agreement between Spain and the UK.” On September 17thSpain declared that it sought an additional protocol to any prospective Withdrawal Agreement covering contentious issues such as smuggling, tax evasion, airport control and free movement of people.

But Spain is the least of Gibraltar’s problems, especially under its new, more accommodating, Socialist coalition. The real problem is the removal of Gibraltar from the EU’s single market for services as indicated in Theresa May’s Chequers proposal.

 GC:Apart from the British military, the services economy, including to a large extent gambling services are at home on The Rock. How do you see the local economy suffering or maybe even benefiting from Brexit?

PW:90% of Gibraltar’s trade in financial services is nominally with the UK – notably insurance and online gambling – this depends on the UK’s single market membership. It was revealed in March that a commercial arrangement was in place to continue the current regime until end-2020. This superficially protects that 90%. However, Gibraltar’s wider protection depends on the transitional arrangement the UK wants with the EU being reached. If it is not, keeping open the UK-Gibraltar links are helpful but, in the long run, a second-best alternative to staying in the EU single market.

GC:How do you see the challenge of people living in Spain being able to work in Gibraltar?

PW:The majority of the workforce that produces these services live in Spain. So, as half of Gibraltar’s 27,000 jobs are filled by workers who live, like I used to do, in the Campo, maintaining an open border is vital. But, as passport and customs checks already exist given Gibraltar is not in either the customs union or Schengen, what follows will be a political decision by Spain as to whether to make life more difficult at the border as it has in the past.

GC:Many companies and countries have complained about the approach Gibraltar has taken when it comes to offering gambling services from there to the rest of the EU without having the relevant license in the target jurisdiction. Their argumentation is usually based on the subsidiarity principle prevailing in the EU for this sector, and as such the typical internal market rules for freedom to provide services not applying. Do you think the fight will have been won for the pro-subsidiarity camp when it comes to Gibraltar, no matter whether there is a hard or soft Brexit?

PW:So far, yes. But, the moment Gibraltar is outside the single market, competitor lobbying and the political movement within the EU to challenge areas perceived as “tax havens” will increase. Without the protection of the UK around the EU decision-making table, Gibraltar’s position may be considered more perilous.

GC:So, my last question today is probably quite an obvious one, but it is one that burns on every tongue in Brussels. If you were to give it your best guess, what direction do you see the future EU-UK relationship going?

PW:Of course, that depends on the events over the next two months. A deal which clears the EU and UK hurdles to come will means Britain is out of the EU, with the can of the final commercial arrangements kicked down the road til December 2020 and probably beyond. Britain will ultimately have a Canada- or Norway-style future arrangement. But the new reality – for the UK and indeed Gibraltar – is that the UK will lose any real capacity to influence EU law-making.

GC:Thank you very much Peter, also on behalf of the Casino International readers, for your very open and interesting answers.

PW: The pleasure was mine. Thank you.

Gambling vs gaming

A declaration between gambling regulators from across Europe and Washington State (I am still trying to understand the concoction) was written, dated 17th September 2018 on “their concerns related to the blurring of lines between gambling and gaming”. Built on concerns of consumer protection and underage gambling, the one-pager highlights “controversies relating to skin betting, loot boxes, social casino gaming and the use of gambling themed content within video games available to children”.

A while ago I discussed concerns brought up pertaining to video and social gaming offers leading to actual gambling. Guess what the declaration addresses. In any case, expect new national regulation on the issue popping up in the future.

Greetings from Brussels.