Gambling is one of the fastest-growing money-making businesses in the EU, thanks to on-line sites, and among the least regulated.
Europeans are among the biggest fans of on-line sites, with 7 million regular users, accounting for close to half the worldwide market.
Next year the business will be worth about €13 billion (having doubled in just seven years) and accounting for an ever increasing share of the estimated €80bn a year spent on all kinds of gambling.
Smart phones, tablets and digital TV as well as computers are making access to gambling sites much easier.
The European Commission has raised a warning flag pointing out that up to 3% of the population are problem gamblers or in danger of developing an addiction. Young people have increasing exposure to such sites and 6% of 14- to 17-year-olds gamble online.
Each national government makes its own rules on gambling, with gambling being a state monopoly in some countries, controlled with just a few state-issued licenses in others, or loosely regulated in others.
Regulating the on-line business that knows no borders is more difficult. The EU does not have authority to draw up legislation on the sector, but has produced a series of guidelines it hopes countries will adopt.
The Commission says countries should make sure the public are aware of the risks associated with online gambling and of the safeguards that should be in place to prevent gambling becoming harmful. There should be a registration process to open a player account to prove age and to raise the alarm in the event of dangerous use.
Users should be able to set spending limits when registering and receive alerts on their winnings and losses while playing and to take time out while playing. They should have access to helplines and be able to exclude themselves easily from gambling websites.
The recommendation suggests each country should have a competent regulatory authority to monitor and supervise the industry and its compliance with rules and best practices.
As well as covering gambling services generally, it also covers advertising, sponsorship and promotion through media providers such as press, TV, radio and internet.
Michel Barnier, the Commissioner responsible for Internal Market and Services said, “We must better protect all citizens, and in particular our children, from the risks associated with gambling. We now look to the Member States, but also to online gambling operators, to match our ambition for a high level of consumer protection.”
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