Get Back In Your Box, Government
Jeremy Hetherington-Gore Unleashed
28 March, 2010
Estonia has become the latest European Union Member State to take action against foreign Internet gambling providers, instructing its Internet providers to block around 200 foreign domain names, because they are not licensed for online gambling in Estonia, or face a fine of EEK40,000 (USD3,500). PokerStars, PartyPoker, Full Tilt Poker, Unibet, and Bwin are included on the list.
Other countries in the Union which have comparable regimes include Austria, Sweden, Portugal, France, Estonia, Belgium, the UK, Poland, and Denmark.
Unlike in the US, where the ban against foreign Internet gaming providers is based (supposedly and hypocritically) on moral grounds (if the little critters want to steal their Dad's money to play poker, let's make sure it's red-blooded Texan Hold'Em), in Europe it's more of a tax matter. Countries don't like it when ex-offshore countries like Malta and Gibraltar, which is where most of the big Internet gaming firms are based, purloin 'their' licensing and turnover fees.
It's so 19th century, and so wrong. Suppose I live in Tallinn, and I book a holiday in Portugal on-line with a German tour company, paying for it from my perfectly legal and disclosed Swiss bank account. What has that got to do with the Estonian government? Right, nothing. So how come they think they can tax me on bets I make in Gibraltar, and now they are putting prison bars on my door by locking out the firms I want to do business with.
Well in reality there will be another dozen operators to spring up for every one they cut down, and all the banned firms have got to do is to invent another trading name and url (they've already got loads of them waiting, I expect) and off we go again.
This is shaping up to be a really interesting test of the the Single Market. The Commission has said time and again that member states have no right to behave in this way, and the European Court of Justice, except for one strange blooper in the case of Portuguese lotteries, has consistently upheld the law. But the member states, and more and more of them, are deliberately flying directly in the face of the Court's rulings and the law. Oh, for US-style Europe-wide class actions which would cut these anti-citizen governments down to size. Don't they know who pays them to sit on their fat bottoms making life difficult for me and you?
All credit then to incoming European Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier, who is planning a re-statement of what is already the law on remote gambling in Europe. Don't hold your breath, but if he does what he promises, there will be a clear Directive on the matter later this year. It should only take another decade to get it through the Parliament and the Council, but hey, that's Europe for you.
The existing regimes in many member states amount to prohibition, which has been shown not to work on countless occasions both for gambling and sex, that other mainstay of people's leisure time and foundation-stone of human nature. A very thorough study was done last year of the regulation of on-line gambling by Wired Safety, a US charity, which recognized that the current US prohibitionist regime with respect to online gambling is largely ineffective in achieving its aims. There have been lots of them, in fact.
Well, if I am so sure that the controls won't work, why bother to protest about them? Because it gets up my nose that governments should get away with being so intrusive, nannying, greedy and arrogant. Off I go again . . .
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