Belgium Considers I-Gaming Regulation

24 April 2006

A new draft law presented to the Belgian Minister of Justice proposes the legalization and regulation of Internet gambling in Belgium through the granting of licenses to nine Belgian casinos.

The idea is that licensing only those nine operators would eliminating the eligibility of foreign operators.

The Belgian Gambling Board considered a plan in 2000 to grant licenses for online casinos, but that never came to fruition, thanks, in part, to lobbying efforts from the National Lottery.

In December 2002, the Belgian government modified the National Lottery Act (of April 2002) to grant the National Lottery a monopoly to organize online lotteries and the right to organize other games such as bookmaking or casino games.

But the newly proposed legislation, submitted March 15 by the Belgian Gaming Commission, would take a little bit of power away from the lottery and shift it to operators of other games of chance. Each of the nine land-based casinos would have the option of setting up a casino Web site to be overseen by the Gambling Board. The casinos would be responsible for handling all of aspects of online gaming, including payouts, timing of the games, setting the minimum age for access to the games, paybacks and loss threshold.

The Commission, which oversees the granting of licenses on games of chance, has been urging lawmakers to recognize Internet gambling as legal since at least the beginning of last year when the law first appeared, making a shift toward the legalization of online gambling.

The Commission's Marc Callu said last January that there was a need for such a system because the number of online gambling sites is growing and unregulated sites put Belgian consumers at risk.

In a speech given Oct. 12, 2005, Etienne Marique, president of the Commission, outlined the Commission's recommendations on regulating Internet gambling.

Marique said that in meetings with the federal public prosecutor and the federal Computer Crime Unit, the groups explored many ideas for stopping illegal Internet gambling, but ultimately decided the problem presented its own solution.

The Commission's research has shown that there are at least 100,000 Belgian citizens using the Internet to gamble--spending €1 billion each year--despite Internet gambling (aside from what is allowed via the lottery license) being illegal. Based on the tolerance of the phenomenon that is Internet gambling, Marique said regulation is the only solution.

Thibault Verbiest, a lawyer specializing in new technologies and gaming law and a senior partner with the ULYS law firm, said he is fairly certain the legislation will be amended by the end of the year to not only allow Internet gambling, but also to regulate sports betting in a more coherent way. Sports betting currently falls under 1963 legislation, which only regulates pool betting. Fixed-odds betting is not regulated in Belgium.

The legislation has not seen any action yet in Parliament, although in accordance with protocol, the Commission invited questions and comments regarding the proposed legislation. The deadline for communications was April 18, and the questions will most likely be addressed at the Commission meeting on May 3.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.