Since Free TV, the body representing Australia's commercial free to air television broadcasters, published its proposed amendments to the country's Commercial Television Industry Code ("Code"), live odds betting advertisements in Australia have received significant media exposure. Many of the reports were so negative that it has prompted the government to intervene to suggest further advertising restrictions and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, even threatened to legislate a complete ban on the airing of live betting odds during sporting events unless the restrictions were adhered to. It is understood that all television networks have now agreed to implement the government's new restrictions and Free TV will provide a revised Code within two weeks.
Given the intense debate and media attention over the last month, the public must feel satisfied with the changes that are set to be implemented. However, the government does need to take account of the fact that advertising is critical to a gambling operator's business and if it wants to prevent a proliferation of unlicensed offshore sites targeting Australian residents, it needs to consider any further restrictions very carefully.
Not as prominent in the press was the proposed gaming machine reforms in South Australia. The reforms are predicated on the same basis as the advertising restrictions, namely to better protect the public by decreasing the number of gaming machines and gaming venues in South Australia and to better support problem gamblers.
More information on both of these stories can be found at:
Having presented more than 400 proposals to amend the draft report on online gambling (the so-called Fox Report), it was unanimously approved by the European Parliament on 30 May 2013. The Fox Report was originally very much in favour of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in Community law, urging the European Commission to take action against infringing Member States. However, in order to get the report over the line, Ashley Fox had to substantially retreat from his stated position and agree to remove several paragraphs on EU law compliance, including "the Commission's priority to make substantial progress on the infringement cases and complaints against a number of Member States" and the call to the Commission to "continue to carry out effective checks on compliance with EU law of national laws and practices and to take legal action against gambling monopolies". Instead, it is understood that the principle of subsidiarity is now the focus of the Fox Report, giving Member States ample flexibility to legislate and enforce on a national level.
Given the degree of flexibility Member States currently enjoy in relation to gambling matters, it is hard to see how the Fox Report changes the current position. However, the final report is not yet published so we will have to wait and see how the changes effect the industry. A vote by the full plenary will take place on 1 July 2013.
In the same vein as the forms proposed by the Australian government, ARJEL, the French online gambling regulator, published a report which made 33 recommendations regarding further restrictions on advertising and access to unlicensed gambling websites. Included in the recommendations were limits on the number of TV and radio adverts, and for the first time (although not yet determined), online adverts. ARJEL also wants to expand its remit not to solely block access to illegal operators but also any affiliates that promote unlicensed websites.
France has taken a very restrictive stance in relation to online gambling since its inception in 2010 and therefore these further restrictions simply cement its position. It may be that we see an increased enforcement appetite by the French authorities but any timeline for implementation is unclear at present.
The Hesse Interior Ministry's process for selecting which 20 operators will be awarded an online sports betting licences has been the subject of debate since the licensing process commenced and has been one of the grounds in which operators felt they could challenge the licensing regime. On 14 May, a decision by a German administrative court reinforced this argument when it ruled that the licensing procedure was contrary to EU and equal treatment principles. The fact that some operators were not invited to second round interviews and not provided with any justification as to why, was considered to be unjust and lack transparency. The court ruled that all applicants must be given the opportunity to participate in interviews and be provided with any justifications if they are not successful. The court also ruled that any operators failing to secure a licence must be given the opportunity to apply for an interim injunction before any licences are issued to the successful operators.
This case comes at a time when the ECJ is still deliberating over the consistency of the German regime as a whole, therefore, highlighting the continued uncertainty in this jurisdiction.
For more information please read: Germany: Opaque licensing process falls foul of EU and equal treatment principles
On 10 May, the Italian Betting Exchange Regulations were published and therefore will be implemented imminently. However, there are concerns that the favourable tax regime for betting exchange games (20% of gross profits) may have a negative impact on the sports betting market, which is currently taxed on a turnover basis. It will be interesting to see how sports betting operators react once the exchange regulations are in force.
For more information, please read: Italy: Betting exchange regulations in force
With government instability stalling any online gambling reform in the Netherlands for over a year, it was a welcome announcement when the Dutch unveiled its Remote Gambling Act on 22 May 2013, replacing the very outdated Betting and Gaming Act.
The aims of the Remote Gambling Act are to:
• Regulate remote gambling (online games of chance)
• Create a central register for the exclusion of games of chance
• Expanding enforcement instruments of the games of chance authority
• Adapt the tax arrangements including a two tier tax system for games of chance (29% for land based providers and 20% for remote providers)
An internet consultation procedure has now commenced where stakeholders are invited to comment on the proposals. The consultation will run until 21 July 2013.
The fact that the Netherlands are finally regulating online gambling will create another regulatory hurdle to overcome, requiring operators to obtain another licence in what is becoming an increasingly polarised European online gambling market.
Further, on 27 May the Dutch Games of Chance Authority also announced that it is entering into an arrangement with Facebook to block advertisements of unlicensed gambling providers. This alliance with Facebook seems to be in line with the country's proposals to step up the level of enforcement pending a more liberal regime.
For more information on both these stories please read:
On 1 May 2013 the UK Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill ("Bill") which examines the grounds for opposition by offshore gambling operators, considers a taxation of the online gambling industry, and discusses the compatibility of the Bill with EU law. The tone of the report is clear; the UK government intends to pass the Bill irrespective of any views to the contrary. It will be interesting to see if the government's comments incite more operators to mount a challenge or if they act as a deterrent.
For more information please read: UK: Gambling Bills gets a nod in Queen's speech