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Gambling: Gibraltar

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 5 December 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What discussion they have had with the Government of Gibraltar about tightening the regulation of online gambling.

My Lords, there have been no formal discussions with Gibraltar on this issue. The Government have had wide-ranging informal discussions with a number of jurisdictions about the regulation of online gambling. For example, in October 2006, we hosted an international summit on remote gambling, which was attended by representatives from Gibraltar and 30 other jurisdictions. The aim of the summit and subsequent discussions was to promote and share best practice in consumer protection.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but does he agree that the rigour of gambling regulation in Gibraltar falls well short of that insisted on by the Gambling Commission here and by the white-listed authorities of Alderney and the Isle of Man? May I urge my noble friend to do all that he can to persuade the Gibraltar authorities of the value of information exchange agreements between betting operators and sports governing bodies, so that irregular betting patterns, allegations of improper interference in the running of events and downright cheating are properly investigated? There is strong evidence that, in the case of operators based in Gibraltar, this is not happening.

My Lords, one case has certainly given rise to concern and my noble friend has brought it to the attention of the House in the past. However, we are not greatly exercised by the regime that obtains in Gibraltar with regard to these issues. It is quite clear that Gibraltar wants to reach the standards expected for online gambling in those areas over which we have more direct control, but we could do damage by leaning on the authorities in Gibraltar too greatly in areas where they are jealous of their own authority. However, we have made it clear that our Gambling Act and our Gambling Commission have set very high standards. As far as possible, we want to ensure that other jurisdictions that provide facilities of which British citizens take advantage operate the same high standards.

My Lords, if Gibraltar is less rigorous and effective than this country, will the Minister assure us that children will be as well protected, which was the intention of encouraging gambling organisations to register in this country? This is a vital area.

My Lords, that it is an important consideration of our gambling legislation and the Gambling Commission. I assure the noble Baroness that we have no anxieties on that score as far as Gibraltar is concerned. If we did, it might be necessary for additional action to be taken. We should recognise that the Gibraltar authorities have the advantage of someone who is closely connected with the Gambling Commission in this country and who is therefore more than well equipped to advise them on the standards that they need to obtain.

My Lords, following those remarks, does the Minister agree that Gibraltar has self-interest in firm and strong regulation? It is hard to believe that it would not be keen for such regulation, because it derives considerable economic benefit from having these sorts of operations. Can we do anything to encourage Gibraltar to strengthen those areas highlighted by the noble Lord who asked the Question? We can help it with what knowledge we have gathered to maintain its integrity and its tax base, which is pretty irresistible to the companies that want to go there.

My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, Gibraltar attended our summit meeting on these issues and therefore was able to participate in proceedings that emphasised the standards that we have set. As the noble Viscount rightly said, Gibraltar has a very small domestic market. Therefore, if it is going to be successful with its gambling regime, it must attract punters from other European states. Obviously there is an affinity as far as the United Kingdom is concerned. Gibraltar is not going to get people using its online gambling facilities if there are doubts about the standards that obtain. It is in its interests that such standards should be as high as possible.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as there is ample evidence that offshore online bookmakers are not taking steps to validate the age of gamblers applying for credit lines, they should be brought legitimately within the compass of British law, without breaching EC law, by being banned from advertising in the UK markets?

My Lords, only certain online areas are able to advertise in the United Kingdom, so we can to some degree limit that in any case. The noble Lord is right. If we had great anxiety about children being brought within the framework of online gambling and if we thought that the processes did not stand up to proper scrutiny, we would want to explore those issues further. Although online gambling is a significant new development, it still represents a very small percentage of gambling. The Gambling Act and the Gambling Commission have appropriate regulation for this country and we set out to set standards for others who seek to encourage people to gamble from this country.

My Lords, British bookmakers contribute to and help British racing. Do the profits from gambling in Gibraltar aid British racing in any way?

No, my Lords, I do not think that that is the case. There has been a levy on British-based bookmakers to contribute to racing, which has been an important part of the development of racing in this country for a long time. The noble Baroness will be all too well aware that that arrangement has been the subject of intensive discussion over recent months and the issues are not resolved at this point in time. However, I do not think that I can bring Gibraltar within that framework.

My Lords, that is a most interesting point. I asked a series of questions of civil servants, but I did not think of that one. Let me make the point pretty obvious. I should have thought that, if an online provider is not having his debts fulfilled because the person at the other end is not of a legal age to be sued, the obvious conclusion that he would draw is that he had better ensure that there are regulations to make sure that such debts can be fulfilled. From my experience, bookmakers are very careful to make sure that people can honour their commitments.