Patrick Van Eecke and Raf Schoefs (DLA Piper, Brussels) discuss recent media coverage in relation to the Belgian Gaming Commission’s (BGC) open letter to the next government in which it requests for a further restriction of the gaming industry and for a tightening of the legal framework. 

In an open letter to the future members of the next Belgian government, the BGC pleads for a further restriction of the gambling industry. The BGC grounds its request on new figures illustrating that in the first months of 2014 already 600.977 players found their way to online gambling sites, which is considerably higher than the number of players (211.166) visiting land-based gaming halls and casino’s.

In regard of those market evolutions, and more in particular in regard of the move towards online gambling (of which, according to the Commission’s annual report 2013, the total turnover of all licensed operators amounted to 15 million EUR for casinos, almost 23 million EUR for arcades and a small 17 million EUR for betting operators), the BGC is of the opinion that the existing legal framework is insufficient. Furthermore, and as may come as a surprise for an already strictly regulated country, the BGC takes the view that the gaming industry should be further limited, as the exploitation of gambling activities cannot be considered, so the BGC states, “as a normal economic activity“. For those reasons, the BGC addressed an open letter to the coming Belgian government, in which it criticizes the government’s current gambling policy on several points.

First of all, the BGC refers to the legal principle stating that persons involved in a collective debt procedure are prohibited from participating in games of chance for which one must register. The BGC welcomes this legal provision, but states in its open letter that the measure is undermined by the absence of a decent identity control of players. The BGC pleads (and has proposed draft legislation in this sense) for an improved control of online identities on the basis of the national registration number of players.

Secondly, the BGC again (see our earlier blog post) pinpoints its focus on social gaming. In the BGC’s view, social games entail the risk of directing players to paying alternatives, which is particularly harmful for minors. Similar suspicions are furthermore made towards the videogames industry. The BGC calls on the new government to take action in this respect. Draft legislation in relation to social games was already presented by the BGC to the present government, but there seemed to be little appetite from the government to regulate social games. It is an open question whether the new government, under influence of the BGC’s open letter, will be inclined to take further action in this respect.

Thirdly, the BGC pleads for a (further) restriction and rationalization of the gambling industry. According to the BGC, the Belgian legislation aims at providing the Belgian player with a limited legal offer of games of chances (“canalization” purpose). However, the BGC implies that the Belgian government is more interested in the revenues stemming from gambling activities than effectively limiting this offer. The restriction and rationalization of the offer could, according to the BGC, entail concrete measures such as providing more budget and personnel to the BGC, actively prosecuting Belgians gambling abroad (which to us seems contrary to the geographical scope of the Belgian gaming legislation) and taking further measures against illegal gambling activities.