From our experience as lawyers based in Romania we often point out to our clients involved in the gaming industry that the notion of “consumer protection” is no stranger in their industry. On the contrary it represents a constant concern of the European legislators and has recently become a major topic on the agenda at international conferences.
In 2011, the European Commission launched a consultation Green Paper on online gambling which brought into discussion “consumer protection” in gambling. Green Papers may lead to legislative proposals which are presented in the form of a “white papers” which in its turn must be approved by the Commission and can take the form of either regulations or directives.
In the 2011 Green Paper, the Commission devoted a separate chapter to consumer protection and the notion of problem gambling. Further consumer protection is called “a public interest objective.”
In 2014 the Commission issued its recommendations on the principles for the protection of consumers and players of online gambling services as well as the prevention minors from gambling online.
Country regulators are encouraged to create a legal framework for controlled fair and transparent games in order to ensure protection of the players. The notion of gambling problems is based on studies conducted by universities or professional associations in the EU. A gambling problem is described as “an irresistible urge to play, despite harmful consequences or the need to stop.”
The studies analyzed by the Commission and mentioned in the Green Paper, indicated a number of factors which contribute to the creation of gambling problems. These factors are based on i) event frequency. The shorter the time between the game taking place and the opportunity to place a stake then the greater the risk, ii) pay out interval. The time between the placing of the stake and the result and subsequent payment iii) accessibility and the social environment, iv) chasing losses or being close to winning, v) perceived skill and “involvement” and vi) advertising that could trigger the interest of vulnerable groups.
There is also depending on the type of game and method of betting a further degree of risk differentiation. The Commission found that Member States where using several means to control the problem such as age information, warnings on sites, banning the use of credit, making the operator responsible for on line gambling and restricting the types of risky gambling or betting risk limits and limiting the advertising on line.
According to the Green Paper online gambling offers more possibilities to track players’ transactions and consequently, to provide protection against problems that arise from gambling. Continuing with this theme the Commission presented a number of studies showing the need to ensure an adequate legal framework to protect gamblers of all ages. This includes raising awareness of the risks of gambling and involving the organizers as well as the players and civil society.
Another step taken by the Commission to protect consumers is the recommendations issued in 2014, the recommendations are not binding upon Member States. Through these recommendations the Commission has made its views known and suggested courses of action without imposing any legal obligation. Each member state is however free to decide what measures to take to protect the consumers.
The Commission’s recommendations targeted several areas and actions which Member States should take into consideration so that they can provide consumers with the necessary protection.
These included i) providing information about the operator, prices and payment terms, and mentioning “responsible gambling,” such information being provide by more than one click ii) information mentioning that gambling can be harmful if not properly controlled; iii) information about support for players on relevant websites, iv) self-assessment tests for players to check their own behavior and a link to at least one organization that offers information and support for behavioral difficulties associated with gambling;
Further the Commission recommended that member states should preventing the access of minors to sites and provide checks that would prevent them from participating in gambling as well as including discouraging adverts and other communications which might have a harmful effect on minors.
They also considered that there should be i)mandatory registration and the existence of a player’s accounts, ii) supervision of the player’s activity and offering support, iii) the possibility of time out and self-exclusion for a specific period of time during which the player’s account should be frozen iv) ensuring the transparency of advertising indicating health risks caused by addiction to gambling, v) campaigns for the education and public awareness as well as the awareness of those involved in the gaming industry about the risks of gambling and the establishment of proper supervisory bodies;
Member States were recommended to report to the Commission by January 9th 2016 about of the measures taken by them in accordance with these Recommendations,
Member States were also invited to communicate for statistical purposes on the applicable protection measures and to report the following addition information to the Commission for the first time by July 19, 2016. This information to include the number of players accounts (open and closed), the number of self-excluding players, players suffering from a behavioral disorder associated with gambling and complaints of players, and advertisements sorted by category and violation of these principles in relation to advertising.
Taking into account all the above the latest changes to O.U.G. no. 77/2009 and the Methodological Norms lay out the ground work for creating the necessary framework for consumer protection in relation to gambling; also the involvement of non-governmental organizations and authorities to promote a responsible gaming industry is also a significant contribution in this direction.
From our experience advising in relation to gambling related matters all the above is a step in the right direction for Romania and for persons who have problems in relation to gambling.