After Many Shake-Ups in Spain, Espinosa Remains

In the last few weeks, a joint coalition between Spain’s left-leaning parties has been cracking down on gambling. Still, the head of Spain’s gambling regulatory body, Juan Garcia Espinosa, will remain unchanged. This decision comes in spite of the fact that Spain’s joint coalition elected to make significant “structural changes” to other ministerial departments of the country’s government.

A handshake between two hands, both Black, coming from long-sleeved work shirts.

The latest decision from Spain’s coalition government will keep Juan Garcia Espinosa in his role as head of the DGOJ, which will now be overseen by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. ©Cytonn Photography/Unsplash

The Latest in A Series of Changes

The decision to maintain Juan Garcia Espinosa as head of Spain’s gambling regulatory body, the Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego (or DGOJ) came just a few weeks ago.

This announcement came on the heels of weeks of significant gambling regulations imposed by the joint coalition in Spain’s government between two of its most left-leaning parties, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (or PSOE) and Unidos Podemos.

The first wave of rules from the PSOE-Unidos Podemos coalition came in the form of a six-part law passed just after the new year. The laws largely targeted the issue of gambling advertisement and creating protections for minors who might be vulnerable to irresponsible gaming behavior.

These protections will include establishing a mandatory distance between schools and gambling establishments, as well as signs positioned outside of these establishments to warn of the dangers of irresponsible gambling, much like surgeon generals’ warnings on packs of cigarettes in certain countries.

Shortly after the passage of this law is a new petition from outside of the government coalition, now from an independent consumer rights agency, FACUA-Consumidoresen Acción. In this petition, FACUA-Consumidoresen Acción asks Spain’s Minister of Consumer Affairs, Alberto Garzon, to ban credit card use to refill one’s e-wallet in online gambling activities.

In a statement released from the organization, FACUA-Consumidoresen Acción officials also referenced a desire to protect citizens vulnerable to irresponsible gambling or addictive behaviors, who might be unable to self-regulate without the help of official protections.

FACUA-Consumidoresen Acción praised the joint coalition of PSOE-Unidos Podemos, and hopes that their proposal will be adopted by the organization, which has stated that their six-part regulation coming at the beginning of this year is just the beginning of a wave of regulations they aspire to implement in Spain’s gambling industry.

This is bolstered by the fact that the joint Partido Socialista Obrero Español and Unidos Podemos coalition published a 50 page document just before the end of 2019, outlining in detail the various policies they hope to concretize in Spain’s government this year.

A Desire to Protect Spain’s Youth, After Protests

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A series of significant reforms have been sweeping through the gambling industry in Spain this year, following major protests last fall. ©Chris Slupski/Unsplash

Last year saw protests across Spain in response to a rapid increase in legal betting in the country throughout the 2010s. According to the protestors and their many supporters, the gambling industry had boomed in Spain following the 2008 recession but came without corresponding government regulation.

As such, citizens were increasingly concerned about the high risks to themselves, their families, and their children, who were seen as being at risk of developing unhealthy relationships to gambling.

These fears were not unfounded. According to Spain’s Federation of Rehabilitated Gamblers and the Association of Psychologists in Madrid, 1 in 5 teenagers in Spain are addicted to gambling. Many of the protestors in last year’s marches believed that this was because of a lack of government protections for their children, and demanded of their officials to make a change to existing legislation (or the lack thereof).

What is the DGOJ?

The Dirección General de Ordinación del Juego (or DGOJ) is the body in Spain responsible for regulating the country’s gambling industry.

Since 2017, Juan Garcia Espinosa has been the head of Spain’s Dirección General de Ordinación del Juego. During this time, Espinosa has spearheaded a number of programs intended to limit the harm of gambling for those who might be vulnerable to addictive or irresponsible behaviors.

This has included improving the existing frameworks within the organization and reclassifying gambling addiction as a mental illness. Both of these projects, undertaken by the DGOJ under Espinosa’s leadership, echo the pursuits of the PSOE-Unidos Podemos coalition to protect those at risk of developing gambling addiction in Spain, which many citizens and coalitions alike believe to be essential as the country becomes increasingly central in Europe’s gambling economy.

Though Espionsa Stays, Some Changes Made

The decision on the part of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español and Unidos Podemos to keep Juan Garcia Espinosa in his post as director of the Dirección General de Ordinación del Juego, the PSOE-Podemos joint coalition did make some big decisions regarding the organization, including moving the supervising body of the DGOJ from Spain’s Ministry of Finance to the Consumer Affairs Ministry, headed by Alberto Garzon.

In addition to running the Consumer Affairs Ministry, Garzon is a Podemos Deputy. This shift did not come as a surprise, as the PSOE-Podemos coalition had confirmed that this specific reorganization was in the weeks some time in advance.

The new supervising body for the DGOJ means that gambling in Spain will now be inherently overseen by the Consumer Affairs Ministry, rather than the Ministry of Finance. In so doing, officials hope to recalibrate the administration in such a way as to ensure consumer protection, including protections to potentially vulnerable citizens, from the top-down.

Says Garzon: Look Out For Some More Updates

Upon implementation as the new supervisor of the DGOJ, Alberto Garzon told local media to be on the lookout for “sweeping changes” to Spain’s gambling laws in the next two to three weeks.

In a televised appearance on La Sexta’s weekend news broadcast “El Objetivo,” Garzon appealed to his audience, admitting that even he participates in the activity by annually drawing in Spain’s “El Gordo” lottery during the Christmas season. Still, Garzon emphasized that it is the government’s duty to protect its citizens, which he aims to do in his role as the supervisor of the DGOJ.

In his appearance, Garzon described the current state of affairs as having “virtually no regulation, leading to chaos,” with an advertising landscape “governed by the law of the jungle.”

According to El Pais, a Spain-based newspaper, one of the other changes to come from the PSOE-Podemos joint coalition will be a “management fee” for casino operators. The funds raised from this program would go, reportedly, to funding addiction treatment centers for those who struggle from gambling addiction.

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