NEWS From Paris to Poland, the rules are in flux
Europe struggles to fit e-gaming into old regulatory frameworks. Another complication: Brussels
The lawyers, at least, must be rubbing their hands in glee. Across Europe, the regulations governing online gambling are changing so quickly – and often inconsistently – that you'd be forgiven for wishing the single European market meant just that.
In France, for example, online gaming seems set to explode after regulator Arjel granted licences to nine more companies.
Now authorised to take euros from French residents are AD Astra, CanalWin*, FullFun, Geny Infos, Jeux 365, LB Poker, PKR France, Rekop – the French incarnation of Full Tilt Poker – and Zeturf France. Not all will be offering casino-style games, however, with some intending to provide sports betting and pari-mutuel betting on horse races. The licensing round comes after
the introduction of new online gaming regulations earlier this summer.
And France's opening-up of its market – still too
restrictive, according to some – is just one episode in a flurry of regulatory activity swirling across Europe. Spain is working on legislation to cover Internet gaming; Sweden is banning the advertising of online gambling, a move recently backed by the European Court of Justice; Italy has submitted details of its proposed regime to the European Commission.
France's Arjel itself has won a court battle to make
Internet service providers block access to unlicensed gaming sites. Israel – culturally and economically if not geographically European – is taking a similar tack, and Bulgaria is also cracking down on cross-border betting. Meanwhile, Poland's strict new rules are reportedly causing concern in Brussels.
With such a diversity of countries all trying to impose
their varying values on the market, and the EU also taking an interest in most of them, don't expect the European online gaming sector to settle down any time soon.
One small step forward for online gaming in the U.S.
But Barney Frank’s liberalising bill is far from a shoo-in: it could still face defeat in either house
If HR 2267 supplants UIGEA, it won't just be a case of one impenetrable abbreviation taking over from another. For behind the cryptic code beloved of bureaucracy lie two pieces of legislation – one in force, the other perhaps not far away from toppling it – which together govern the recent history and potential future of online gambling in the U.S. UIGEA, of course, is the Unlawful Internet Gambling
Enforcement Act, which in 2006 put a stop to online operators taking the bets of American residents. Cue, in millions of cases, hollow laughter: UIGEA didn't so much stop them gaming as turn them into technical criminals. And that's one of the arguments mustered by
supporters of HR 2267, also known as the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act, proposed by the controversially liberal Congressman Barney Frank.
Frank wants online gaming operators to be permitted once again to market their services to U.S. customers, and he found some support this summer from the House Financial Services Committee, which voted 41-22 to approve the bill, although not without amendments – and not without some vocal opposition.
Among its opponents speaking at a two-and-a-half-hour hearing were Congressman Spencer Bachus, who characterised online operators as “criminal offshore
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gaming interests”, and anti-terrorism consultant Michael Fagan, who warned that “anybody who grew up in America knows someone who went out and bought liquor [while under-age] and the same thing will happen on the Internet”.
While the logic underlying Fagan's prediction may have mystified many, it was persuasive enough to the committee that the modified bill it passed does require online gaming firms to take measures to exclude young people. It also places restrictions on marketing and payment methods, says that operations must take place in the U.S., and gives equal licensing and enforcement authority to states and tribes. And it still doesn't legalise online sports betting. But for Franks's supporters, the committee's approval will be seen as a significant step ahead, and they are counting on a slowly but steadily spreading acceptance of gambling in the U.S. to ease its passage through the next legislative steps. After all, they reassure themselves, 37 states now have legalised non-lottery gambling, up from just 13 in 1988: surely online's time has come? Perhaps. But there are still obstacles, including the power of Nancy Pelosi – the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who voted against online gaming in 2006 and who could scupper the Franks bill's chances – and the lack of a clear champion in the Senate. There's also the difficult question of fitting it into the legislative calendar: some predict that if it can't be made law in late September or early October, it won't have a chance until next year. So it seems like we'll still be trying to pronounce UIGEA for a while. Ouija, anyone?
HITTING THE TARGET The Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers and American Gaming Association raised $100,000 for the National Center for Responsible Gaming at a golf tournament this summer. In total, they've now raised $850,000, and are aiming for $1m.
EXTREME FISH Magic Dreams says “extreme volatility and increasing emotion” are the main characteristics of its new hundred-line videoreel game Happy Fish, based on its Xtend platform.
NEW TECH Online sportsbook operator Jetbull has relaunched using EveryMatrix's OddsMatrix system and GamMatrix management software.
ANOTHER PLAYER Butlers Bingo is the latest Website to offer Bingo and casino games – along with chat rooms – to players in the UK and Ireland. It's driven by Microgaming's technology.
POKER CAPITAL London hosts its Poker Festival through most of September, with the World Poker Tour London followed by the English Poker Open, the British Poker Awards, and the World Series of Poker Europe. Prizes will total more than £10m ($15.6m).
AGEM MEMBERS A further 11 companies from the U.S. and Asia have joined the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers: Acres 4.0, American Gaming Systems, Bingotimes Technology, Borden Technology, Bullivant Houser Bailey, Codespace Gaming, Entropy Precision System, Lincoln Industries, Matsui Gaming Machine, Rye Park Gaming and StyleGame USA.
BOND BOOST Casinos Austria will use the proceeds of a bond issue in July to “create opportunities for growth through new venues and innovative products”, according to CFO Josef Leutgeb.
NO THANKS The planned Sasina resort in Samoa hopes to attract gamers from China and Korea, but church and community groups fear the impact on a local culture unaccustomed to gambling.
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