In a dramatic move, Belgian police and officials from the Belgian Gaming Commission ("BGC") brought in Mr. Teufelberger, co-CEO of bwin.party, for questioning, while he was attending a conference on responsible gaming in Brussels. Mr. Teufelberger was one of the speakers at that conference. After his presentation, he was invited to attend an interview with the Belgian authorities. Mr. Teufelberger was released after a two-hour interview, and he subsequently left the country. He was not formally arrested.
The unprecedented move is a new low in the relationship between the Belgian authorities and bwin.party, but it also illustrates the determination of the Belgian authorities to pursue infringements of the Belgian Gambling Act and, if need be, to seek application of the criminal sanctions in the Act.
This initiative is part of a broader campaign against illegal online gambling activities. Earlier this year, the BGC published a blacklist of illegal gambling sites. The list is regularly updated and currently contains some fifty websites that are illegal within the parameters of Belgian law. The widely publicised questioning of a top executive of one of the companies involved in this campaign is another illustration of the same policy to step up enforcement efforts.
It is of course questionable whether these measures are compatible with EU law and as such open to challenge either by a gambling operator such as bwin.party or even by the European Commission itself. Just last month the European Commission's published its action plan for online gambling which included a commitment to pursuing court proceedings against Member States whose national gambling legislation infringes the relevant EU Treaty provisions. (See the Commission's communication here and the related Olswang report here.)
It is perhaps not surprising that it is bwin.party which has been targeted specifically. Several of bwin.party's websites have been put on the blacklist. Bwin.party has contested this initiative in court, but so far to no avail. Officials from the BGC claim that despite being blacklisted, there have been attempts by bwin.party to circumvent the blacklist and to continue to offer online gambling in Belgium. Mr. Teufelberger is reported to have confirmed publicly that the blocking efforts from the Belgian authorities were not fully effective. Mr. Teufelberger is expected to attend a follow-up interview on 17 December 2012.
In a press statement, bwin.party confirmed that it "intends to continue the on-going dialogue with the BGC".