CONSUMER PROTECTION AND GAMBLING

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It may seem surprising, but the notion of “consumer protection” is no stranger to the gambling industry.

On the contrary it represents a constant concern of the European legislators and has recently became a major topic on the agenda of international conferences (see International Conference on Gambling London in 2016, and the Conference organized by the magazine Casino Life & Business Magazine).

In 2011, the European Commission launched a consultation Green Paper on online gambling which brought into the discussion “consumer protection” in gambling. Commission Green Papers are documents published by the Commission in order to stimulate debate at a European level on various topics. Citizens, organizations, etc., are invited to participate in the consultation process and to discuss the Commission’s proposals.

Green Papers may lead to legislative proposals which are then 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.

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In 2014 as a continuation of the 2011 initiative the Commission issued it’s recommendations on the principles for the protection of consumers and players of online gambling services and to prevent minors from gambling online. In the contents of 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.”

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 in member States is based on specialist studies conducted by universities or professional associations to determine it’s prevalence in several Member States. 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, indicate a number of factors which contribute to the creation of gambling problem. These are

(1) Event frequency. The shorter the time between the game taking place and the opportunity to place a stake then the greater the risk.
(2) Payout interval. The time between the placing of the stake and the result and subsequent payment. It has been shown the shorter the period the greater the risk.
(3) Accessibility and the social environment.
(4) Chasing losses or being close to winning.
(5) The perceived skill and “involvement”. The possibility of being involved in the event upon which the bet is being placed and the use of one’s own skills to assess the chance of winning. This provided evidence of the ‘near-miss psychology.
(6) Commercial communications that could trigger the interest of vulnerable groups.
There is also a degree of risk differentiation in relation to the gambling problem depending upon the type of game or method of betting.
The Commission found that Member States use several means to control the problem of gambling, 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 advertisments on line in relation to games.
According to the Green Paper online gambling offers more complex and advanced possibilities to track players’ transactions and consequently, to provide protection against problems arsing from gambling. Continuing with this theme the Commission presented a number of studies and their conclusions about the problems of gambling and its effect on players, thus showing the need to ensure an adequate legal framework. This includes raising awareness of the risks of the gambling problems and involving the organizers of gambling as well as the players and civil society.
Another step taken by the Commission to protecting consumers is the recommendations issued in 2014. However, in legal terms, the recommendations are not binding upon Member States. Through these recommendations the Commission can make it’s views known and suggest courses of action without imposing any legal obligation. So it is up to each member state 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 are:

– Providing information about the operator, prices and payment terms, and mentioning “responsible gambling,” such information being provide by more than one click namely that : (i) information specifying that gambling can be harmful if it is not properly controlled; (ii) information about the player support measures on relevant website; (iii) self-assessment tests for players to check their own behavior in terms of gambling and addiction and a link to at least one organization that offers information and support for behavioural difficulties associated with gambling;

– Preventing the access of minors to the site and providing the checks that would prevent them from participating in gambling, including discouraging advertisments and other communications which might have a harmful effect on minors;

– Mandatory registration and the existence of a player’s account;

– Supervising the player’s activity and offering support;

– The possibility of time out and self-exclusion for a specific period of time during which the player’s account should be frozen;

– Ensuring the transparency of commercial communications indicating the health risks caused by addiction to gambling;

– The transparency of sponsorship so that will not affect or influence minors;

– Campaigns for the education and public awareness as well as the awareness of those involved in the gaming industry about the risks of gambling;

– Establishment of proper supervisory bodies;

Member States are recommended to report to the Commission by January 9th 2016 about of the measures taken in accordance with these Recommendations,

Member States are 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 is 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 realation to advertising.

In Romania, 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. The involvement of non-governmental organizations and authorities to promote a responsible gaming industry is also a significant contribution in this direction.

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