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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.

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar and Europe: caught in the slipstream?

The British papers are full of who has the lead in the European in or out campaigns – Guy Clapperton considers the fallout for the smaller territories

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no clear pattern emerging in the Europe debate, as long as we understand “Europe debate” to mean whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. This week alone we’ve seen Boris Johnson “warning Obama off” (as the BBC put it) getting involved in the debated, the same London Mayor and MP having a radio spat with Chuka Umunna involving telling each other to man up and various insults traded as either side accuses the other of scaremongering or making it up as they go along.

Divining who’s going to win is more difficult. The Daily Telegraph reports that “out” has it by a tiny margin but, crucially, the anti-Europe vote is likely to be more motivated so will actually show up on the day, expanding the margin by which it will win. Meanwhile the Times’ daily Red Box email points to Elections Etc. whose research suggests a 58% “remain” vote but with a plus or minus 14% error margin; so somewhere between 44% and 72% will go for staying in the EU. This, readers will note, tells us precisely nothing.

So the outcome, even if there weren’t 100 days in which Presidents and world leaders will offer counsel, claims and counterclaims will be made and the “leave” campaign will eventually decide who the official “leave” group actually is (there are two factions at the moment, doing the best impression of the Monty Python Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea that they can manage), we wouldn’t want to call a snap referendum even if it were to be called this afternoon.

What’s clear is that the outcome will ripple beyond the British mainland’s shores, and the ramifications of an “out” vote are already being felt on Gibraltar. Anyone doubting this should check today’s Times (subscription required), in which the Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo highlights recent Spanish statements about what would happen in the event of a Brexit.

Spain actually caused a few eyebrows to raise and some other people to panic just a little with its recent statements. Essentially the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, suggested that there would be conversations on the sovereignty of Gibraltar the “day after” an announcement of a British exit, according to the Daily Mail and other reports. He also said (much, much further down the report) that he didn’t want Britain to leave: “God forbid” is the phrase he uses.

He raised the idea of joint sovereignty once again more recently, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle, this time suggesting that if Britain leaves Europe then Gib could do what it nearly did (he says) in 2002 and start transitioning towards Spain. This is an interesting definition of “nearly” when 98.48% of the electorate actually voted not to do so, but remaining British when this might exclude the Rock from Europe would inevitably raise different issues if not a different final outcome.

Outside Gibraltarian interests the effect could be more severe than that. SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made no secret of her wish to make a fresh case for Scottish independence. The once-in-a-generation referendum on this was lost in 2014 but should Britain exit Europe with a majority of Scots clearly demonstrating that they want to stay in, the case becomes stronger (although the collapse of the oil price would blow the original blueprint out of the water).

So we could end up with Scotland as well as Gibraltar wanting to remain in Europe while Britain made its exit. Whether this would be legally possible if both stayed tied to Britain is untested as yet – and with Spain eager to enter talks the day after an exit is agreed but the Gibraltarians implacably opposed to becoming Spanish, the way forward would not be clear.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.