Belgium’s Legal Gambling Industry to Continue Slide amid Tightened Restrictions

In Belgium, the Council of State has provided an overview of rulings for the legal gambling industry. For the most part, the council’s confirmation of existing measures only means the industry will weaken.

A street scene in Bruges, Belgium. The country’s online landscape for gambling is becoming more restrictive. (Image: Dreamstime)

Belgium’s highest administrative court has delivered three judgments in proceedings to overturn the public position approved by the Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) on December 11, 2019. In addition, the Council of State must also investigate seven other procedures.

Crucially, the Council of State and the BGC are on the same page regarding weekly deposit limits. The amount is capped at €500 (US$522), and gamblers cannot increase it. Increase requests would have to go through the National Bank, which may not allow them.

BGC Not the Ultimate Authority

The BGC received support from the court for many of its positions. For example, the court went along with the definition of advertising, which the BGC developed.

In addition, the BGC’s position on the topics of bonuses, credit card use and notifications and pop-ups remains intact. The commission’s interpretation of the use of credit cards doesn’t violate the scope of the Royal Decree on gambling. At the moment, it is not possible to use plastic at Belgian online casinos.

With regard to bonuses, this could have a serious impact on the gambling industry. Essentially, the BGC wants almost a complete ban on bonuses of any kind.

This impedes competition and growth among legal operators. It also offers an avenue for black market alternatives to sweeten their offers and pull in more consumers.

However, not everything the BGC wants it gets. In the judgment, it also became clear that the powers of the regulator have their limits. For example, it may not interfere with the automatic lifting of the increase in the deposit limit. Therefore, the watchdog does not have the right to reset the deposit limit to the standard amount of €500 if the player is inactive.

The other point on which the Council of State intervened was the position on the minimum duration of self-exclusion. The position of the BGC is that a licensee must offer users an option for temporary self-exclusion for a minimum of six months. However, the Council of State ruled that the BGC does not have the power to impose this measure.

Gaming Ads, Sponsorships Prohibited

The BGC takes a public position that the ban on advertising during the live coverage of sports matches should not result in matches no longer being broadcast. Advertising is, therefore, permitted if its removal would make the broadcasting of the sports match impossible.

The burden of proof for this lies with the persons who distribute the advertising. In this context, they are expected to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the broadcast can still take place.

In addition, the Council of State ruled that the BGC’s stance on notifications and pop-ups is not binding. The regulator essentially wants no advertising of anything related to gambling anywhere in the country.

Much of the BGC’s interpretation stems from the Royal Decree. For example, the harms of gambling must appear in all advertising, just like cigarette and alcohol warnings. However, the BGC’s stance, according to the court, is more of an advisory message, not an order.

Still, the court conceded one point. If an advertising message relates to several games of chance at the same time, the message must then meet the conditions that apply to all those games of chance.

The position of the regulator on the rules of sports broadcasts was not an obstacle for the Council of State. The court decided that the BGC’s ban on advertisements during sports matches on media other than radio and television follows the Royal Decree.

In addition, sponsorship is also seen as a form of advertising. As a result, due to the Royal Decree, there will also be a ban on sports sponsorships by gambling operators. By the end of 2024, all gambling-related sponsorships must end.

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