As the technology emerged to provide online gambling services one of the major targets was the
newly formed European Union’s market of nearly half a billion people
The sheer eclectic nature of the European Union means there has been very little uniformity without
imposition, and indeed one of the salient features of the EU is the almost constant battle of the
individual nation states that comprise the whole with the central whole of which they are part. This
is sometimes framed as being similar to the political fights between US States and the Federal
Authorities, the big difference being that the US Constitution isn’t a matter of debate and the EU
Constitution is still being hammered out by modern politics under the glare of a modern media.
US States might consider themselves individualistic entities within the federal United States, and
indeed you won’t meet a Texan who doesn’t, but they have far more in common (most particularly a
language) than the Europeans. The US states banded together in order to stand against the British and
their wholly unrealistic taxation policies, the countries that comprise the EU basically did so to prevent
themselves digging holes in Belgium and slaughtering each other for four years at a stretch, something
they managed twice in less than fifty years.
With national identities established over hundreds, in some cases thousands, of years the cultural
identity and attitudes of each of the now 28 countries in the EU are a little less mailable than the freshly
formed States of the US. This means that the exceedingly well-meaning one-size-fits-all European ideal
is often viewed by populations as anything but ideal and European politicians are thus often seen as
either being Europhiles or Eurosceptics, as are media outlets to some degree.
Gambling In Europe
• Harmony between EU nations not yet complete
• Various regulations apply in various nations
• Restrictions apply to mobile casinos too
Online gambling in the EU is a good example of how different member states have had entirely
different responses to precisely the same issue, and how the ongoing process of European integration
and “harmonization” is replete with problems that are often used as populist political footballs, leading
to delays and schisms within the EU. Standing up for your own national interests in the modern Europe
still involves going to Belgium but to the bureaucratic hub of Brussels not the trenches of the Western
front and whatever its flaws, it’s far better.
Technology’s Gift Horse
The argument over who started the first online casino still rages on with the actual answer lost in the
mists of the mid-1990s. Whether you side with Intercasino or Gamingclub in the who came first stakes,
the facts are that the world saw 15 sites of similar ilk arriving in just that first year. The technology had
come of age and the facility it provided was a business opportunity that was pounced upon in the era
of the dot.com bubble. The infancy of this industry was matched by the growing paints stemming from
the EU’s consolidation of centralized authority with the treaty of Maastricht only finalized a few years
The theoretical uniformity of regulation as laid down in the core principles of the EU, however, in
practice simply doesn’t exist, and in the same manner that US states have chased the bricks-&-mortar
casino tax dollar, revenues from internet betting in the EU are not inconsiderable incomes for many
European governments…….those that accepted it at all. For all its grandiose promise of harmony the
fact that there is no single uniform view or legal setting within the 28 different countries says much for
the EU’s difficulties.
According to Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union there should be freedom of service provision
between the nations that signed up. Unfortunately the liberalization of markets has been a stuttering
process at best, and in terms of gambling, almost a stalled one. EU gambling laws vary because as
online gambling surfed into Europe on the crest of the internet tsunami, different national governments
had very different responses based on both their ideologies and domestic circumstances. A situation
that remains true today.
Some nations chose early to accept this new industry as a whole, Malta and the UK being leaders in
their liberal attitude and willingness to regulate and license operators, three times as many however
restrict internet gambling to domestically run sites in direct contravention of the treaty. Some even ban
foreign operators from providing services at all with well known sites blocked, and sanctions placed
on ISPs who allow the facility. Often these nations run their own State gambling operations so their
restriction is based on competition elimination, not ideology.
Online casinos in the EU arrived with a fanfare of television advertising and slick marketing
campaigns and as the century turned some of the giants of the industry, such as Bet365, were to emerge
and it was the rise of these mega sites that gave rise to an even greater schism within the attitudes of
the EU nations. As the gambling revenues of these businesses grew into the billions, the more forward
looking countries did much to attempt to incorporate rather than restrain the industry with the British
Gambling Act of 2007 often cited as being a world class example of sensible jurisdictional taxation and
Stand this against the attitude of Spain that still imposed restrictions on gambling per se or Greece
that bans internet gambling entirely, and the uniformity so often promised, is noticeable only by its
absence. This has meant that operators moving into the market during the early years of this century
faced a shifting marketplace not only in terms of regulations, which are apt to change at political whim
anyway, but also a shift in the markets available at any one time. With over 500,000,000 people in the
EU there are huge opportunities, but many are limited by a lack of will toward the ideal.
Many smaller nations within the EU saw the hesitancy of the larger nations, many of whom faced
silly moralistic faux-outrage from pressure groups and the media, and pounced on the opportunity to
become home to these entities. Malta is notable for the number of companies that operate out of it,
and Gibraltar has picked up a few as well as shifting regulations elsewhere have made it an attractive
tax circumstance under which operators can do business, even if nations now impose tax on remote
operators – as the UK does.
The development of online gambling in the EU, especially in terms of legal regulation, is an ongoing
process, and it is still early days in comparison with the set-in-stone US constitution, and operators
face guarded competition from state monopolies, irregular regulations and wholesale prohibition of
their services being provided, however the size of the market that attracted them in the first place
still warrants their continued efforts and whilst it may still be in its infancy the growing pains of the
industry and market alike are unlikely to last forever.