New EU Commiss Wants to Settle Online Gambling Mess

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Ivan Camilleri, Brussels

Times of Malta

The confusion over online gambling in EU member states is set to be ironed out by new Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier, a move that will be closely followed by Malta.

Soon after taking on his responsibilities, Mr Barnier announced he planned to address the matter and instructed the European Commission services to draft a green paper on the issue.

The EU is divided over the subject.

Malta, among others, agrees online gambling should be regulated by existing laws covering the EU's free movement of services and no member state should restrict national markets to limit competition from online companies operating in other countries.

However, other member states, including France and Portugal, have taken measures over the past years to monopolise their lucrative gaming markets, restricting competition.

The Commission has already started infringement procedures against a number of member states over this issue, accusing them of introducing practices that went against the spirit of the free movement of services. However, so far, little progress has been made.

Commenting on a recent judgment handed down by the European Court of Justice, acknowledging Portugal's right to limit freedom of establishment and free movement of online gaming companies in other member states, Mr Barnier said this was not intended to introduce a monopoly.

He said that according to the Commission's legal services, the ruling did not give member states more freedom but justified certain restrictions on strict criteria. He said it was, among others, built on the historic and atypical nature of the Portuguese institution, which had a monopoly on the organisation of gambling.

In this context, Mr Barnier announced the start of a consultation process with member states and stakeholders so that a precise analysis of the situation would be made, in the form of a green paper next autumn, subject to agreement of the College of Commissioners.

"We will be on the lookout as we think remote gaming should follow free movement," a source close to the gaming industry in Malta said.

"Malta is all for more clarification of the rules but these should not be used to introduce restrictive practices," he said.

Over the past years, Malta has seen its remote gaming sector soar as international companies decided to relocate to the island due to favourable fiscal and operational conditions.

It is estimated that Malta's gaming industry is the second largest in the EU employing thousands of employees and leaving millions of euros in the government's coffers each year.

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