Spain’s iGaming Operators Face $50M Fines if They Violate New Rules

Even though it has one of the safest gaming markets in Europe, according to several studies, Spain’s government is working overtime to clamp down on the activity. Minister of Consumer Affairs Alberto Garzón presented a wave of new restrictions recently, including massive fines for violations, that are now ready for implementation.

The Spanish flag flies on an old building
The Spanish flag flies on an old building. The country is implementing new regulations for the iGaming space, including potentially massive fines for violators. (Image: 123RF)

Garzón took another step forward in his fight against online gambling after Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a royal decree last Friday. It further tightens access to online gaming platforms and requires gaming operators to create safer online environments.

It’s a regulatory change that’s based on a paradigm shift in the concept of gambling, similar to what’s occurring in the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. Whereas the gambler previously held the responsibility of controlling his or her activity, it’s now society’s job.

Putting Operators on Notice

The objective of the Spanish government is to protect vulnerable players. It wants to minimize potentially risky behavior that it believes could lead to problem gambling, despite the country registering a problem gambling rate of less than 1%.

Moving forward, minors between 18 and 25 years old will automatically be considered “vulnerable,” according to the new gambling laws. The same classification applies to those who have net losses of €600 (US$644) or more in a three-week period. The amount is lowered to €200 (US$214) for players between 18 and 25.

Individuals who have self-excluded will also be in the €200-cap group. These players will have to register in the General Registry of Gambling Access Bans, which all operators in the country must use.

Gaming operators will be obliged to notify vulnerable players, or those who may engage in risky behavior, of their potential slide into the gambling abyss. They will also have to send a monthly summary of the gaming activity, which includes the number of times they accessed the platform, the means of payment, and the profit and loss balance. For the rest of the operators’ users, this information is available voluntarily.

Cut Off at the Wallet

Players the operators deem as “at-risk” won’t be able to use credit cards to make deposits while they wear this badge. However, they can use other forms of payment, such as bank transfers and certain online payment solutions.

When an operator detects that a user is at risk, or may fall into it, they must contact the individual. The goal is to receive a response from the player within 72 hours. If there’s no response from the player in this timeframe, the operator will have to suspend the user’s account. The government hasn’t laid out how operators will make this determination.

In addition, contacting those at-risk individuals for promotional campaigns is now off the table. This means they cannot receive favorable treatment to try to get them to increase their frequency of play or induce them to place larger bets.

The law also establishes that operators cannot send marketing promotions to users between the ages of 18 and 25 unless they are specific to gaming. In other words, they can’t receive invitations to attend special parties or events, nor can they be invited to join VIP loyalty programs.

Gaming operators will also have to make a responsible gambling telephone number available to users. This is so they can contact the operator if they believe they could be at risk of gambling addiction and want to seek help.

Another change will shift how marketers approach gambling. Near-misses in betting of any kind can no longer be met with messages such as “you almost hit” or “you were close.” These, officials determined, are inducements that may be too tantalizing for some gamblers.

Massive Fines in Store

Garzón, in his capacity as the controller of Spain’s gaming regulator, is ready to throw the book at operators that don’t play by the rules. Violators can expect to be fined and, given the current political sentiment toward gambling everywhere, the government will keep a close eye on what’s happening.

For “serious infractions,” the fine will be €1 million (US$1.07 million) and, potentially, the suspension of the gaming license for six months. For “very serious violations,” the penalty skyrockets to €50 million (US$53.71 million) and a permanent license suspension is all but guaranteed.

Studies have determined that too many restrictions have an adverse effect on the intended goal, especially in the gaming space. This is because users decide not to deal with the red tape and move to offshore and unregulated sites instead.

As a result, player protections disappear, just like the revenue the regulated industry provided. This has already been observed in Norway and Germany, with the same response percolating in other countries, as well.

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