ESSA’s Khalid Ali: long and challenging process to remove ‘betting right’

Khalid Ali
Khalid Ali

Khalid Ali, Secretary General of ESSA, the regulated betting industry’s integrity body, comments on the passage of the Council of Europe’s convention on the manipulation of sports competitions.

“The industry has worked hard over the last couple of years to work constructively with policymakers on the Council of Europe’s proposed text, most notably including the removal of the promotion of a sports’ betting right, an approach which has been widely criticised by a recent report for the European Commission. This has not been easy to accomplish given the staunch position taken by some stakeholders, however, it was one of our red lines and we managed to push it through.

Working closely with our partner trade bodies at the RGA, EGBA and ABB, we have as a sector provided a lot of detailed evidence to support our position along with positive engagement and debate on that basis. It has been a long and challenging process but where policymakers have in many instances begun to understand the realities of this issue and where our sector is actually the victim not the perpetrator of betting related match-fixing.

Along with much of the tenet of the text, fundamental issues for our sector such as the promotion of restrictions on betting and bet types have consequently been significantly softened. It now merely proposes a limitation on sport betting “where appropriate” and following consultation with the national sports organisations and sports betting operators. This is somewhat different from earlier versions where imposing restrictions were part of a sports betting right. There is no reason to believe that countries which do not impose such restrictions will seek to as a direct result of signing the Convention, nor are they required to do so under the terms of the text.

The British Gambling Commission, for example, which has been engaged in this process with the Council of Europe, stated in its October 2013 betting integrity policy paper that it: “is familiar with methods used in other countries to promote betting integrity such as restricting the types of bets offered or approving sports governing bodies’ rules before allowing betting on those sports. The Commission has the power to impose such restrictions. However, the Commission does not consider, based on the available evidence, that such intrusive or resource intensive methods are warranted or would be effective in Great Britain”. We are not aware of any change to this position.

Indeed, there is much more flexibility in the scope and application of the convention overall for potential signatories. The general approach has, with our sector’s strong support, evolved from one which now quite rightly seeks to reflect the wide range of existing regulatory frameworks that are in operation rather than to replace them. Imposing a single regulatory approach across jurisdictions was never going to be a viable approach and the text instead provides what could be seen as a minimum standard which regulators and their licensed operators in many European countries will already met or exceed.

We would have preferred that the definition covering illegal sports betting be different. Clearly having one country view an operator regulated in another as illegal is prone to potential inconsistencies in the application of the text. It also distracts from the real issue which is of course the multitude of totally unregulated operators, many of which are outside of Europe, and important internal issues within sports concerning poor governance and financial mismanagement which is making players more susceptible to advances from corrupters.

The Convention would be better served to view this issue in terms of regulated and unregulated betting in general; an issue which I recently empathised to the Parliamentary Assembly’s rapporteur on this matter. However, the reality is that political expediencies tend to outweigh practicalities, and indeed the legal position within the EU, in this area. Nevertheless, whilst the current definition is undesirable, in practice it may not actually make any difference to the present situation – jurisdictions can and do already employ this flawed position.

Whether the Convention will, overall, have any significant or meaningful impact in this area – which we hope it will as we support large parts of the text especially around responsible information sharing and engagement – we can only judge over time. It is also a “living” document so there will inevitably be constant discussion over potentially amendments and changes to the scope of the Convention and its application. However, at this time, whilst there are undesirable aspects, overall we have a relatively balanced and workable set of provisions which is in no small part a reflection of the cooperation and hard work put in by the various trade associations representing regulated private betting companies. “

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