Today (14 March) Spain’s main executive body, the council of ministers, has approved the Royal Decree for the development of safer gaming environments. This is a proposal from the council to bulwark safer gambling protections.
The new measures are the latest regulatory push from the ministry, following the previous 2020 Royal Decree of Commercial Communications, which significantly tightened up the country’s gambling advertising laws.
“The purpose of this new regulation is to minimise risky or intensive gambling behaviours that can lead, in the most extreme cases, to problematic or pathological behaviours,” said the ministry in a statement, explaining the rationale for the new measures.
The principal target of the decree is young people between the ages of 18 and 25, which the ministry argues are especially vulnerable to “inappropriate messages and gaming patterns” – although the regulations will also fortify protections for other at-risk groups.
The government will define risk profiles by consumer spend. A user who accumulates a net loss of €600 – or €200 if the individual is under the age of 25 – over a period of three consecutive weeks will be considered to be an intensive gambler for categorisation purposes.
The Royal Decree also includes additional protections for players who have requested safer gambling restrictions on their gambling accounts, or have signed up to the national self-exclusion register.
Credit card ban
Under the new rules, operators will be required to send a message warning at-risk individuals if potentially harmful behaviour is detected, as well as a monthly summary of their gaming activity. Additionally, users who are in this category will not be able to use credit cards to finance their gambling spend.
Gaming operators will also be barred from sending promotional material to players who fall into this category. The companies will also no longer be permitted to include such individuals in VIP programmes.
The businesses will also not be allowed to send promotions to young people between 18 and 25 if they did not previously interact with the gaming business. For example, an individual who buys tickets to a football game will not be allowed to be a subject for gambling advertising.
“In other words, they can no longer be offered improved or more advantageous conditions to promote their level of play,” said the ministry.
Failure to comply
Operators will also be required to establish communications with at-risk players. If there is no reply within 72 hours, the business must suspend the account.
Younger users will also be shown a message stating that gambling at an early age is associated with increased risk of developing unsafe gambling behaviour later in life.
The ministry has said that failure to comply with the new regulations may see a business subject to sanctions. This could include a fine of €1m and a six-month suspension of their gaming licence. The statement added that for more serious infractions, penalties could be up to €50m, with the potential to permanently lose its licence.
Following the publication of the new rules in the Official State Gazette, new rules usually come in to force in six months. Some regulations which entail particular technological complexity may have a delayed entry of 12 months.
Criticism from industry
The Royal Decree has found itself the target of criticism from the Spanish online operator association JDigital.
The body highlighted that the Spanish regulatory regime is already one of the strictest in Europe, currently in a period of falling levels of problem gambling.
“We consider that this Royal Decree responds to a tendency of the national regulator to regulate activities that are already hyper-regulated, where the measures and good practices of the operators have contributed to having truly secure environments and frameworks,” said the lobbying group.
JDigital also said that it is in favour of regulation of the sector as long as such measures are proportionate and contribute to safer gambling environments.
The body added that, however, regulation “cannot be an obstacle to sending political, confusing and alarmist messages to society, about a perfectly safe sector, according to government data and in comparison with neighbouring countries, and already battered after the entry into force of the Royal Decree of Commercial Communications”.
“Now… that it has already been regulated to limit the activity of operators, from the industry we demand that the regulator be able to work on the opportunities that do exist to improve the gambling market and investment in Spain.
“For this reason, JDigital will continue to reach out to the regulator to address the creation of safe environments for online gambling in Spain in the most efficient way possible, as it has done up to now.”