European Outlook 2020: The Regulatory Forecast

European Outlook 2020: The Regulatory Forecast

With another wave of regulatory developments due to crash into the global gambling industry over the next 12 months, GamblingCompliance takes a look at some of the high impact areas that will shape the year to come in Europe.

Advertising

One of the banner issues of 2019 looks set to grab even more headlines in 2020.

In Italy, at the tail-end of last year, it was LeoVegas that received a landmark first fine from the regulator for breaching the Italian advertising ban.

The presence of enforcement action has unlocked the possibility of a full legal challenge being launched against the ad ban, setting up a pivotal court clash that will define the future of the Italian market.

With even the regulator having warned that the legislation is likely unconstitutional, the stage seems to be set for a long legal wrangle.

Should the Italian government face defeat, do not expect minister and populist firebrand Luigi Di Maio, the architect of the original Dignity Decree, to stay silent.

In 2020, a report into Sweden’s online gambling regulation, including a view on whether gambling advertising in the country is too loud, too prevalent or too irresponsible, is expected to be published.

The ambitious Swedish minister for social security, Ardalan Shekarabi, who has kept the gambling portfolio even though he changed cabinet roles, has heavily hinted that he favours the kind of drastic action likely to win public attention.

Meanwhile, Spanish gambling advertising remains under threat.

Just over 12 months ago the prospect of a near-total advertising ban in Spain was first seriously raised and, a handful of elections later, while the prospect now seems a little more likely than it did at the start of 2019, ongoing political turmoil means this is still far from a settled question.

In the UK, the success of the whistle-to-whistle ban and a crushing defeat for Labour at the polls has dimmed the importance of gambling advertising in political circles, but concerns around football shirt sponsorships are likely to re-emerge this year.

UK: Gambling Act and More

More central to UK-based discussions will be a new Gambling Act. The idea was backed by all parties prior to the general election, and the Conservatives and their large majority are now free to craft it as they wish.

However, as with all things, Brexit comes first and we have a year of transitional European diplomacy ahead that will devour parliamentary time.

Fast movement on this pledge is therefore unlikely, not least because a House of Lords review of gambling policy is already underway and would be expected to conclude before any serious government planning gets underway.

With the exception of Iain Duncan Smith and Tracey Crouch, neither of whom currently have ministerial posts (although Crouch has been tipped for a return), we have very little indication of what leading Conservatives think a new gambling bill should look like. Although an increased role for the Department of Health and its minister, Crouch’s former boss Matt Hancock, seems likely.

The only specific gambling issues that the Tory manifesto said a new act would cover were credit cards and loot boxes.

Gambling on credit may well be outlawed by the time Boris Johnson gets around to a new act anyway, with the Gambling Commission currently on the case, and although a ban on loot boxes would be terrible news for the video game industry, it is unlikely to weigh on gambling companies in any fashion.

More immediate regulatory pressure is likely to come from the commission, which continues to look dimly on VIP gambling and still retains the option to impose mandatory affordability checks for all customers.

Tough sanctions for anyone found in breach of UK licence conditions are now par for the course.

Politically, the regulator faces some questions over the rigour of its due diligence processes, both now and in the past, and is likely to take a much firmer line on white-label arrangements — a route to market which must be considered under threat of closure by a new Gambling Act.

As for Brexit, the large Tory majority in the Commons appears to reduce the chances of a no-deal Brexit drastically, the only situation in which the UK gambling industry outside Gibraltar is likely to encounter serious roadblocks.

Germany

Germany’s endemically messy gambling regulation will pose several key questions in the first half of 2020, with potentially explosive answers.

Whether or not operators will comply with the need to apply for online sports-betting licences, and in the process turn off their Germany-facing online casinos, is not yet certain.

Regulators have talked tough about sanctions and criminal proceedings if the rules are not followed to the letter, but the country has historically had very little success in putting pressure on its massive grey market.

German states will also need to agree on the shape of a new treaty to take effect from Summer 2021 by the summer of this year or else face an even more chaotic future.

More and more states are jumping on board with the idea of regulating online casino and there are real chances of an opt-in treaty emerging as the consensus.

Young Legislation

Year two of Sweden’s online gambling re-think will be a fascinating watch, after the first raised more questions than it answered.

For one, no one seems quite sure how much channelisation is actually taking place (the touted figures are not officially produced) and operators have struggled to generate expected revenue, with circling politicians keen to crack down further.

Larger operators are hoping that the market’s difficulties will convince those in the middle to leave Sweden behind.

Meanwhile, permanent licences are at long last expected to be handed out in Greece this year, after parliamentary approval of new gambling laws in October.

Eyes will also be on the Netherlands, as it hammers out the pivotal final details of its online gambling legislation ahead of the planned opening of its licensing window in January 2021.

Top of the list is the “cooling-off period”, which may prevent some or all of the many companies fined by the gambling regulator for soliciting Dutch customers from applying for a licence for a set period of time.

Currently, the six-month delay to the original opening date of the market appears to favour those punished earliest by the Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA). However, minister Sander Dekker has promised to “discuss” with the KSA whether any changes should be made to the current timeline, while politicians and local lobbyists are pushing for an extension.

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