Austria’s Minister of Finance Considers Independent Regulator
Austria’s finance minister is planning to introduce an independent gambling regulator to oversee activity in the country. Currently, the ministry of finance is responsible for licensing and regulation in Austria; this will change if the current proposal plans are approved.
The Minister of Finance, Gernot Blümel, has started the process of establishing an independent regulator and plans to revoke the ministry’s responsibilities. The new body would be responsible for ensuring operators meet their obligations under National Anti-Money Laundering Regulations, Unusual Transactions Act, Counter-Terrorism Financing Regulations and Know Your Customer Policies.
A spokesperson for the ministry of finance, Felix Lamezan-Salins confirmed that the internal process had started and explained that the new body would be free of Government decision making and would offer clear instructions on how operators will be licenced. Lamezan-Salins confirmed the regulator would be responsible for consumer welfare, he said:
We want to set up an independent institution which will be free of instruction and responsible for the supervision of casinos, transparent licensing and comprehensive player protection.– Felix Lamezan-Salins, ministry of finance
Currently, the state authorities across the countries nine states enforce gambling regulations, but this model has come under criticism from opponents who call for change.
Legalised gambling in Austria is permitted under the Austrian Federal Gambling Act (AFGA); however, the legal status of a gambling activity depends on whether chance or skill is involved. They define a game of chance, “in which decision on the outcome of the game depends solely or predominantly on chance”. Therefore games including roulette, optical roulette, poker, blackjack, two aces, bingo, keno, baccarat and baccarat variations need to be licenced. However, games of skill do not need to be licenced as they fall outside the scope of the AFGA.
The Austrian government still has a monopoly in certain gambling activities but not in others.
Österreichische Lotterien Gesellschaft (Austrian Lotteries mbH) is the only company that can offer lottery-based and on-line gambling. The country is also very restrictive in issuing licences for land-based casinos, with just 15 released each year. Sports betting falls outside of the state monopoly and is regulated and licenced at a district level.
Any changes in the Austrian model will likely be watched with interest by industry insiders here. The role and effectiveness of the UK Gambling Commission have been called into question lately and with a radical shake-up of the gambling laws in the UK expected this year, some are asking if the current model works. Labour MP Carolyn Harris has been particularly scathing, stating that the Commission wasn’t “fit for purpose” and called on the UKGC’s CEO Neil McArthur to resign. Harris made the comments as The National Audit Office released figures that showed that the gambling industry took £11.3bn from punters in the UK last year. Yet, the Gambling Commissions annual budget was just £19m—leading to claims that the regulator is being “outgunned” by the gambling industry.