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Gambling Bill in the UK – an international issue

Sponsored post: Hon. Albert Isola MP The Minister for Financial Services and Gaming in Gibraltar writes that he wants a fair deal for all countries.

Gambling policy is a difficult and troublesome area of every Government’s agenda. Over the last 10 years the UK , EU Countries and the United States have wrestled with some or all aspects of gambling policy, not least with remote or ‘online’ gambling.

By contrast, Gibraltar has had a settled and successful regime for many years. It is anchored very firmly in “hands on”, direct regulation to ensure that its consumers are protected, wherever they are in the world, in this global, online market place. To be effective in protecting the consumer the licensing and regulatory regime must be capable of keeping crime out of online gambling, and of protecting consumers in such things as integrity and transparency of the gaming process, security of stakes and winnings, protection of the young and the vulnerable.

This requires that licensees have their important management and operational functions in Gibraltar so that they are accessible to the regulator. So, “Brass plate” operations (as will be permitted by the proposed new UK regime) where operators are licensed in a country but do not have their main operations there are not permitted in Gibraltar, and we also maintain a high standard entry level to ensure that we host only reputable and reliable operators and websites.

The UK is itself now grappling with a new licensing, regulation and taxation regime. The outcome of that is as important to Gibraltar’s economy, and to the commercial survival of leading British companies in this sector as it is to continued protection of UK consumers. In Gibraltar we understand the UK Government’s desire to raise tax from this activity, especially in these economically difficult times. But equally, we think that it is important that the UK gets it right, not just so that Gibraltar is not gravely damaged at a time that we are once again under “economic siege” from Spain, but to ensure that the current high levels of protection that UK consumers enjoy is not eroded. We think that both things can be achieved.

How can “getting it wrong” harm both British companies and British consumers? Well, the online gaming industry is by definition as global as the internet itself. British consumers can switch to foreign websites at the click of a mouse. So, if British operators are saddled with excessively high taxes they are rendered uncompetitive with other foreign websites. They cannot offer their customers the same odds or chances of winning in casino games as foreign websites operating in unregulated, untaxed countries. Experience in other European countries has shown that this leads to a “lose, lose, lose” scenario: British consumers will switch to foreign websites in search of better prices, where they have no consumer protection; important and world leading British companies will go out of business in this market; and, HMRC will not collect as much tax as it could.

Gibraltar and its regulators and operators are world leaders in this relatively new sector, where rapidly changing technology means ever and fast changing business models and regulatory and consumer protection threats and challenges. We and our market leading operators want to work closely with the UK to ensure that the new UK regime works well and fairly for all: that it does not undermine Gibraltar: that it raises tax for the Exchequer, and that it preserves rather than undermine UK consumer protection; that it does not lead to UK consumers being penalised on pricing and quality of offering.

There is much to be learned from the past unhappy experience of European countries that have rushed into this complex commercial, legal, technological and consumer protection minefield, if adverse, unintended consequences are to be avoided. Having initially banned (and now permitted) online gaming the USA stands poised to wrestle commercial leadership of this industry, where British companies currently lead, as a result of Europe getting its policy wrong. We in Britain and British Gibraltar can still get it very right.

We think that it is possible to achieve all of these things, and I am delighted that the UK Departments will shortly be meeting with our operators through their association to ensure that the UK regime benefits as much as possible from our knowledge and experience in relation to the issues that I have mentioned.

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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Anarchy in the UK(‘s) most famous fortress – part 2

Last week we left Gibraltarian workers fascinated by the beliefs of anarchists. Gareth Stockey, Chris Grocott and Jo Grady continue with the story.

The result was a noticeable increase in labour agitation on both sides of the frontier. The tactics adopted by local workers confounded local employers and the Gibraltar authorities, not least because anarchism proved remarkably successful at encouraging boycotts of businesses and ‘sympathy’ strikes in favour of fellow workers in disparate industries. When necessary, anarchists were also willing to adopt ‘direct action’ to combat what they perceived as the inherently violent practices of the bosses and local political authorities who protected them. The rhetoric of meetings gives us a flavour of this new-found militancy, with one worker threatening to ‘eat the liver’ of a local tobacco merchant during a strike in 1902. Following an earlier dispute in October 1901, a local anarchist newspaper urged its readers to remember the long-term goal of ‘total and definitive emancipation […] the abolition of private property with all its consequences, state, religion, militarism, magistrates […] a great work, larger than the massive Rock we have in our view’. Crucially, anarchists were willing to act as well as to talk. Several local bosses were assaulted during industrial disputes in the period – so much so that Gibraltar’s employers occasionally resorted to using firearms in self-defence – and ‘scab’ workers had stones thrown at them as they attempted to cross picket-lines.

Arguably what offended local businessmen more than the threat to their person was the very real challenge that anarchism offered to their economic interests. If we might dismiss as hyperbole, in the context of a heavily garrisoned British colony, the question posed by one local businessman to the Governor of Gibraltar in 1892, ‘are our goods and chattels safe?’, we can nonetheless point to several successes of anarchist militancy at the turn of the century. Across numerous industries, wage settlements favoured workers thanks to the effectiveness of strikes, boycotts and the occasional spot of physical intimidation. Most impressive of all, employers were forced to concede the dream of the ‘tres ochos’ (three eights) to many local workers – that is to say eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep and eight hours for leisure. Committed to improving living as much as working conditions, local anarchist groups also made up for the absence of state provision by offering schooling to hundreds of local children, as well as myriad cultural initiatives to bring learning to the local working classes.

Gibraltar’s employers were so shell-shocked by the growth and success of anarchism that they offered to pay the salary of a British union official who had been sent to the Rock in 1898. In his memoirs Lorenzo Quelch, who had been sent by the nascent Social Democratic Foundation, left a vivid account of his time in Gibraltar, but he decided not to take up the employers’ offer. The culmination of all of this activity was a ‘general strike’ of industries in Gibraltar in 1902. This time, having prepared meticulously and coordinated their response to the dispute, the employers emerged victorious. On the Spanish side of the frontier, the anarchist movement was to face worse, as the local political and military authorities staged a bloody massacre of local militants in October 1902, closing down workers’ centres and confiscating their funds.

Much work needs to be done, but this brief account of the infancy of labour organisation in Gibraltar highlights the intimacy of relations across the frontier. Many years later, in 1919, Gibraltarian workers would formally attach themselves to a British gradualist, rather than Spanish anarchist, form of organisation through the TGWU. But as we have noted, the Gibraltar TGWU retained strong links with its counterparts in the Campo for several decades and workers continued to fight side-by-side for better living and working conditions. The early successes of Gibraltarian and Spanish anarchists shows just how much workers on both sides of the frontier stood (and stand) to gain by recognising common grievances and acting collectively to address them.

Gareth Stockey is lecturer in Spanish studies at the University of Nottingham. He has published widely on the history of Gibraltar and Spain, including (with Chris Grocott) Gibraltar: a Modern History (University of Wales Press, 2010).

Chris Grocott is lecturer in Management and Economic History, and Jo Grady is lecturer in Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management, at the University of Leicester.