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School of Law

Prevent online gambling harm through better regulation

Julia Hornle wearing glasses, a black jumper and pearls

Professor Julia Hörnle

Professor of Internet Law

In collaboration with

Online gambling services have been provided remotely from offshore locations, with operators avoiding a physical presence in the countries or states whose citizens they target. This regulatory loophole has undermined traditional approaches to law enforcement, which are territorially bound. This has had a catastrophic impact on many players worldwide.

The research was carried out in close consultation with national regulators and the European Commission to develop best practice standards for improved player protection.

Professor Hörnle’s team interviewed national authorities and other stakeholders, such as affiliates, legal advisers, payment services and industry associations.

The Report showed how the internet has changed advertising, for example with social media influencers, and requires a different set of regulations. It also showed how regulation cannot be limited to imposing obligations on gambling operators and it provided evaluation tools for assessing the effectiveness of regulatory framework. It highlighted the need for capacity building in regulators and international co-operation of regulators with tech-companies, and other regulators.

[the] research is a clear benchmark for new regulations all around Europe
— Spain’s Finance Ministry

The impact

Professor Hörnle’s research into online gambling and regulation is strengthening regulation and its enforcement, and reducing the harms of online gambling. In particular, the research has benefited player protection and improved regulation worldwide through five key impacts:

Capacity building for the benefit of regulators including setting regulatory priorities

The research has been important for capacity building for regulators who lack the resources to do research. It has given them the evidence they need to justify their regulation and prioritise actions. In Norway, evidence from the research was extensively quoted by the Norwegian Court, in a case brought by several well-funded gambling operators challenging the Norwegian regulation.

Influencing changes in law

This research has improved legal frameworks for enforcement and progressed initiatives for legal change in Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the UK.

In the UK, the research has contributed to the movement for a reform of gambling regulation. The UK’s House of Lords’ Select Committee approved the finding that online gambling companies have a duty of care to control overspending by gamblers, enforceable in the civil courts. The Committee also recognised a ban on online advertising should be considered based on this research, and accepted the recommendation that the problem of foreign unlicensed gambling in the UK must be better addressed.

The research was also cited by the Finland’s Interior as instrumental for a proposal for new legislation overhauling the Finish enforcement model.

Denmark’s newspaper Videnskab published a summary of the research, influencing the debate on targeted marketing and social media advertising there. In consequence of this and media voices, Denmark’s Tax Ministry announced regulatory action against such advertising.

Valletta skyline from the sea with a view of Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Malta is home to a number of remote online gambling services

Assisting regulators to adopt more effective enforcement practices for better player protection

The Report has assisted regulators in strengthening their enforcement practices in Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

The report was of great use to Belgium’s regulator for its mission to contribute to an effective gambling policy and to protect players.

Australia’s regulator, the ACMA, stated that the Report’s analysis had been particularly useful, providing new strategic insights, in particular the use of social media influencers, which had not been looked at before.

Providing evaluation tools for assessing the effectiveness of regulation

The research has given regulators the tools to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of their regulation and develop best practices by comparing their standards to those of regulators in other countries. The dialogue with regulators had established that such evaluation tools had been missing previously.

The research helped Spain’s Finance Ministry contrast their current regulation and enforcement measures with other European regulators.

Creating a framework for international co-operation between regulators and with tech companies

Gaming authorities in Australia, Belgium, Finland, Norway and Sweden said they were inspired by the Report to share more information and seek contacts with gaming authorities in other countries with a view to international exchanges.

Australia’s Communications and Media Authority has stated that recommendations on strategic cooperation with like-minded regulators were useful and had provided the Australian regulator with approaches to implement.

What comes next?

While regulation and international cooperation is helpful, the ultimate aim must surely be to stop potential problem gamblers getting into trouble in the first place.  Professor Hörnle’s present research aims to identify those individuals who are likely to run into problems and find ways to intervene. If online advertising is restricted and current online safety regulation is enacted, could this help those at risk?

She is exploring how to connect with stakeholders such as banks, operators, regulators, debt and counselling services to see how they can be pressed into helping with regulation. Her work will explore if device blocking (Gamban), payment blocking by banks and affordability tools implemented by banks could stop harm before it starts.

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Digital information and data

Shaping a healthier, more prosperous and equitable future for our digital society.
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