The Malta Independent 27 April 2018, Friday

Metsola stresses importance of striking right balance in online gaming

Malta Independent Wednesday, 25 September 2013, 15:17 Last update: about 5 years ago

The development and strength of Malta’s online gambling sector and its trickle-down effect on the economy were discussed, among a string of other issues, during a public dialogue on online gambling in the EU’s internal market.

The event, organised by the European Parliament Information Office in Malta in collaboration with the Malta Business Bureau, saw PN MEP Roberta Metsola, who is a substitute member on the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) committee, participating in the public dialogue.

She explained the reasons behind her not having supported the non-legislative resolution on online gambling that the European Parliament adopted last week.

Dr Metsola said that the final version of the report – which she and the other Maltese MEPs voted against – was very different to the original. There was a great deal of pressure from MEPs coming from Member States that are governed by national monopolies.

Dr Metsola stressed the importance of striking the right balance between maintaining the strength of Malta’s online gambling sector while being fully aware of the importance of responsible gaming and player protection.

“Malta is a leader in the field, and I am optimistic that if we manage the sector well we can reach a situation where our leadership is recognised rather than trampled upon.”

MBB president George Vella, meanwhile, said: “Malta is one of the most successful new member states in Europe; we’ve had strong economic growth since we joined the EU and managed to maintain it against all odds. I think we should be focusing more of our energies on finding ways of replicating this success in other areas, in a bid to catch up with China and other economies that are ahead of Europe. “There seems to be a certain jealousy on something that tiny Malta has done, and I don’t think that this is in the spirit of why Europe was originally set up.”

Ewout Keuleers from the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) gave a presentation, noting that Malta was the first EU member state, and probably the first in the world, to introduce a comprehensive set of regulations for the online gambling sector in 2004. He said that national standalone solutions are not enough for this cross-border sector, and while Europe wants to take greater responsibility and action, there have not yet been any calls for legally-binding legislation.

The original draft report on online gambling by British MEP Ashley Fox was very much focused on the need for EU action in the sector, said Mr Keuleers. However, organised opposition from the two largest political groups (more than 400 amendments were presented) watered down the content of the report. This highlights the underlying political tension between the call for national/EU action and the need for ‘political compromise’. “The outcome of the report contains a catalogue of recommendations that will please both protectionist countries and the industry, but is this consistent?” asked Mr Keuleers.

He said Malta’s unique experience, having regulated the sector for almost 10 years, presents an opportunity for the country’s stakeholders to assist operators, as well as other member states and EU institutions, to pro-actively engage in designing a high-level holistic strategic roadmap for the sector.

Edward Zammit Lewis, parliamentary secretary for competitiveness and economic growth, delivered the closing speech, saying that the government is being proactive and plans to introduce innovative legislation to cater for particular niches to allow the country to attract further investment, even from outside the EU.

“We encourage the EU institutions to depart from the traditional and current debate on peripheral issues and delve deeper and closer into the more substantive matters of gaming regulation. As a country, we must ensure we operate this sector to the highest possible standards, and make sure that the industry is equipped to continue delivering for the Maltese economy – contributing to economic growth and employment.”

The event included a panel discussion with the participation of Reuben Portanier from the Lotteries and Gaming Authority, Alan Alden from the Remote Gaming Council, George Debrincat, chair of the online gambling section at the Chamber of Commerce, Stefano Mallia, the European Economic and Social Committee’s rapporteur on online gambling, who is also contesting the European Parliament elections on the PN ticket,  and Charmaine Hogan, policy officer at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Internal Market and Services.

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