Not that it comes as any surprise, but reports out today that Europe’s internet service providers have warned that they won’t co-operate with regulators who want to cut off illegal gambling sites demonstrate the predictable futility of current European law-making.
European governments, aware that they can’t (under European law) prohibit sites licensed in other European jurisdictions from operating, have instead sought to protect their national players by putting in place laws which make access to their markets commercially unviable for operators which play by the rules. They have done so thinking that the said operators will just withdraw from their markets, and leave the pitch free for the incumbent former monopolies. Commentators with a third braincell have observed that the more likely alternative outcome would be that the operators who frankly can’t be bothered to play by the rules would come in and fill the void. European governments denied it, and the last few years have been a pantomine of ‘oh yes they will… oh no they won’t‘.
Until now. Today’s story comes as French online gambling watchdog ARJEL petitions France’s telecoms networks to stop customers from accessing Costa Rican-licensed 5dimes.com – a request which will be debated in court next month. So they can’t stop 5dimes.com, whose very name suggests that it is a two-bob site, but they’d rather have laws in place that let them in illegally and keep Ladbrokes and Betfair out, than they would create sensible and viable laws that allow operators with proven consumer protections and anti-fraud capabilities, audited accounts, and co-operation with regulatory authorities to come in an offer services which consumers would like to use.
In November and December last year there was a series of stories about how difficult it is – not to say impossible, according to ISPs – to block child pornography on the web. If that doesn’t make clear that you need the co-operation of a website operator to stop people from accessing illegal content, surely nothing will.
Today’s news once again hammers that point home in the online gambling space. We can but hope that European governments now considering regulation (like Greece) bear it in mind, and those who have already passed hopeless laws that merely paper over the cracks (like France) reconsider. It is not a next-best (or worst) option to prohibition, to introduce tax rates which keep out those who play by the rules: in an identical fashion, both serve only to open the door to anyone who doesn’t.