Austria to establish new gambling authority in regulatory overhaul

| By Robin Harrison
Austria’s finance minister Gernot Blümel has announced a wide-ranging overhaul of the country’s gambling regulatory framework, that will see player protection controls ramped up, new transparency requirements introduced, and a new supervisory authority formed.

The Austrian Treasury is currently responsible for licensing and enforcement of gambling regulations, but the new authority will take charge of these duties. 

Blümel said a key focus of this new regulator will be player protection, necessitating a series of new controls on legal and illegal gambling. 

“Player protection is of particular importance, as gambling is a very sensitive area for players, their families and for society, which also carries considerable risks,” he explained. 

“Players are often affected by addiction and as a consequence confronted with financial, psychological and existential issues.”

As a result, the regulator will be tasked with establishing a national self-exclusion system covering online and land-based gambling. 

It will also be expected to step up enforcement activity against unlicensed operators, and will have the power to order internet service providers to block access to these sites. 

A blacklist of unlicensed domains will be created as part of this process. 

New regulations will also be developed for loot boxes, which Blümel said could have a particularly negative impact on younger gamers, and lead them into traditional forms of gambling. 

The Minister went on to say that Austria would look to replicate Germany’s regulatory model, introducing controls such as monthly deposit limits, as well as limiting stakes and playing time for online slots. The exact limits will be developed in consultation with experts in gambling addiction. 

Furthermore, taxes on the industry are to be raised, to ensure operators contribute to the prevention and treatment of problem gambling, and advertising controls will be tightened. This will see gambling marketing subject to controls similar to those imposed on tobacco companies. 

In addition to these player protection focused measures, Blümel announced new anti-corruption safeguards, in the wake of a political scandal that engulfed Austria-based gaming giant Novomatic, Casinos Austria and a number of high-ranking politicians. 

Discussions in parliament are underway over a ban on donations, advertisements and gifts in kind to politicians or parties from gambling providers, arms manufacturers and the tobacco industry. The Minister said this would ensure a higher level of transparency. 

This will also see the federal licence for video lottery terminals (VLTs) abolished, with providers instead requiring licences from the states in which they operate. Three licences to construct new casinos will also be scrapped.

The necessary regulations to facilitate these changes are expected to be developed by the end of April. They would then be put to parliament, with a view to having the laws passed by Autumn 2021.

Plans for an overhaul of Austria’s regulatory framework have long been discussed, with Blümel revealing in March last year that he aimed to “untangle” multiple functions currently held within the Treasury.

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