Many countries are relying on geo-blocking to deprive unlicensed online casinos of their customers and thus the breeding ground. According to media reports, the conference of prime ministers responsible for gambling is also examining this possibility. An EU study is now questioning the success of such measures.
Switzerland as a role model? Regulatory authority prevails
One of the countries that has already taken the fight against the proliferation of online casinos seriously is Switzerland:
As part of the new Money Gaming Act that came into force at the beginning of this year, international operators of online casinos that had not previously received any of the much sought-after Swiss licences were asked to make their sites inaccessible to Swiss customers.
In the event of non-compliance, the providers are threatened with severe penalties and the prospect of never being allowed to operate in the lucrative Swiss market. Industry heavyweights such as NetBet, Mr. Green, and a range of crypto-based slot gambling sites complied with the requirements: Their sites are no longer accessible to the Swiss or offer no possibility for Swiss to register.
Allegedly, a working group of the Prime Minister’s Conference is considering similar steps for the German market. If the heads of government of the federal states remain in line with the current State Treaty on Gambling and continue to ban the operation of online casinos, the introduction of blocks could theoretically lead to the end of online casino and poker sites in Germany.
In practice, however, the measures, as popular as they are with regulators, appear to be much less effective than many a law enforcement agency would like, as a report by the European Commission suggests.
EU Report: Sobering Findings
The recently published English-language report “Evaluation of Regulatory Tools for Enforcing Online Gambling Rules and Channeling Demand towards Controlled Offers” shows on 165 pages how European states use technical instruments to deny users access to certain gambling offers on the Internet.
Currently there are three types of blocking, which are mostly used to prevent users from accessing unlicensed online casinos:
In the case of geoblocking casinos, the site operator himself blocks his offer for calls from certain regions. The location of the Internet user can normally be determined on the basis of his or her IP address and is transmitted to the site operator. The site operator has the option of preventing IP addresses with characteristics determined by him from visiting his site.
DNS blocks are particularly widespread. A DNS (Domain Name Service) server translates the names of websites into network addresses readable by computers. When a site is blocked, the DNS servers of Internet service providers no longer translate certain entries, so the site cannot be accessed in the normal way.
IP blocking means that all access to the IP address of the server that hosts the page being blocked is blocked. This means that all pages registered under the IP address of the server are blocked, regardless of their content.
According to the EU report, 18 states of the European Economic Area currently use blocking of gambling sites, four countries are considering such measures, 12 members completely refrain from blocking gambling sites, including Germany. Of the states that have set up Internet blocking, twelve use DNS blocking exclusively, two rely on IP blocking, the others vary the measures.
Online gamblers should also know this about privacy with online casinos.
Blacklist with more than 7000 Entries
The study also found that of the domains on the blacklists of the states, a total of 19% are no longer active. The authors pay particular attention to the figures for Italy:
With over 7000 domains, this EU member not only has the most extensive list of blocked sites, but a full 63% of them are idle or have already been deleted. The opposite pole is Slovenia, whose blacklist contains only nine Internet gambling sites. The country sets high legal hurdles for blocking sites.
Apart from blocking sites, seven countries use tools to block financial transactions from online casinos. In most of the cases the measures are directed against credit card companies and banks.
Payment service providers such as PayPal or Skrill are also prosecuted if they work with non-licensed online casinos. This is often the accounts of the operators blocked or certain transactions are prevented.
Where a Will, there a Way
It is striking that only four of the states examined in the report seem to have examined their blocking measures retrospectively for success. And their findings may also have caused disillusionment. For example, the Estonian Gaming Authority found that at least one third of the users who were informed on the site of an online casino that this offer was not available to them immediately tried to circumvent the block.
Somewhat more promising were landing pages that would have provided users with information on legal alternatives. Here it was partly possible to redirect the visitors, the report says.
According to the current state of knowledge, the success of Internet blocking in the fight against illegal online casinos is more than questionable. For apart from legal and moral questions about consumer protection and freedom on the Internet, it is now also possible for users who are not very well versed in technology to gain access to officially blocked sites after a short search.
If the reports about a planned introduction of internet blocking of online casinos in Germany are correct, it is to be hoped that this will be accompanied by a sensible regulation for dealing with gambling on the internet.
Otherwise, it is to be feared that the problem will only shift further into the depths of the net, where the protection of players and young people can be controlled even less than in today’s unregulated market.