Making Gambling Less Risky

Protecting minors, restricting advertising and ensuring the provision of basic information on gambling websites should be the key points that Member States take into account when legislating on online gambling, says the Commission.

These points are contained in a non-binding Recommendation entitled “Principles for the protection of consumers and players of online gambling services and for the prevention of minors from gambling online”, which was adopted 14 July 2014. The Recommendation, foreseen in the Commission’s 2012 Strategy for Online Gambling, aims to streamline national rules and encourage greater cooperation between Member States.

The Commission believes that the constant growth of online gambling in Europe – and the development of different rules and policies at the national level – mean that a common European approach is now required. While for most people online gambling is a recreational activity, between 0.2% and 3% of the population suffers from gambling addiction, and minors are particularly vulnerable.
The Recommendation is also accompanied by an impact assessment and a behavioural study on online gambling and adequate measures for the protection of consumers.

Key Points

The Commission chose to present a non-binding Recommendation instead of legislation to enable Member States to take action sooner rather than later. The key principles that Member States are invited to address are as follows:
• Information requirements
• Protection of minors
• Player registration and account
• Player activity and support 
• Time out and self-exclusion
• Commercial communication 
• Sponsorship
• Education and awareness

Scope

The Recommendation defines ‘online gambling’ as any service which involves wagering a stake with monetary value in games of chance. This includes those with an element of skill, such as lotteries, casino games, poker games and betting transactions that are provided online.

Information Requirements

The Commission asks the Member States to ensure that adequate information is available to the consumer who uses an online gambling website. This should include information about the operator, the age restrictions applicable to gambling, as well as about the potential harmful effect of gambling. In addition, the terms and conditions of the contract should be provided in a concise and legible manner.

Minors

Minor should not be allowed to play on a gambling website or hold a player account. In this context, sufficient measures must be taken to prevent minors from gambling. Moreover, special attention should be paid to ensure that online gambling advertising does not reach minors, and above all is not targeted at them.

Player Registration and Account

According to the Commission, a person should only be allowed to participate in online gambling when registered as a player and holding an account with the operator. The person should provide his name, address, date of birth and his email address or mobile phone number.

The Commission asks Member States to allow access to national registers and/or databases in order to verify the identity of the player. When the identity or the age of the person cannot be verified, the registration process should be cancelled. Players would however have access to a temporary account until the verification process is completed and operators should also ensure that players’ funds are sufficiently protected.

Player Activity and Support

Monetary deposit limits as well as temporal limits should be proposed by default to players during the registration process. Moreover, it should be ensured that, at any time, players have easy access to the balance on their account, access to a support function on responsible gambling and to helplines for information and assistance.

Time Out and Self-Exclusion

Operators’ websites should enable the player to activate ‘time-outs’ or self-exclusion from a specific online gambling service or from all types of online gambling services. Time-outs should be at least 24 hours and self-exclusion should last at least six months. The Commission encourages Member States to establish a national registry of self-excluded players and to allow operators access of to these registries.

Commercial Communication

The Commission Recommendation defines “commercial communication” as any form of communication designed to promote, directly or indirectly, the goods, services or image of an operator.

Member States should ensure that the operator, on whose behalf the commercial communication is made, is clearly identifiable. Commercial communications should, where appropriate, carry messages on the risks to health of gambling addiction.

Furthermore, commercial communications should not make unfounded statements about the chances of winning, portray gambling as socially attractive, suggest that gambling can be a resolution to problems or suggest that gambling can be an alternative to employment.

Vulnerable players must not be targeted by commercial communications.

Sponsorship

The Commission defines sponsorship as a contractual relationship between an operator and a sponsored party under which the operator provides financing or other support to the sponsored party, in return for commercial communications or other benefits.

The Commission asks that Member States ensure that sponsorship by operators is transparent and that the operator is clearly identifiable as the sponsoring party. Furthermore, sponsorship should not affect or influence minors by forbidding sponsorship of events for or mainly aimed at minors as well as the use of promotional material in merchandising aimed at minors.

Education and Awareness

The Commission wants Member States to organise or promote regular education and public awareness-raising campaigns in order to raise consumer awareness about the potential risks of online gambling.

Additionally, Member States should require operators and national gambling regulatory authorities to inform their employees about the risks associated with online gambling. Employees who interact directly with players should be trained to ensure that they understand gambling addiction issues and are able to interact with the players appropriately.

Next Steps

The Commission wants Member States to appoint competent gambling regulatory authorities to ensure that national measures – aligned to the principles set out in the Recommendation – are fully complied with.

Member States should inform the Commission about the measures taken 18 months after the Recommendation’s publication. The Commission will then evaluate the measures taken by Member States.