For all that Western Europe is amongst the most liberal environments in the world for gambling laws, there are still some notable exceptions. Germany is perhaps the biggest market that proves an exception to the rule, with a considerably more restrictive environment for operators and gamblers than you’d find in the UK, by way of comparison.
But in recent months, Belgium has been increasingly featuring in the headlines, as lawmakers and courts there attempt to disentangle the confusing raft of restrictions in force, designed to obstruct the liberal gambling market.
This week, operators contending with Belgium’s already restrictive licensing requirements were dealt a further blow, following a ruling from the Belgian Constitutional Court, which has now introduced further restrictions on legitimate gambling operators.
Late last week, the courts ruled that the local gambling regulator, the Belgian Gaming Commission, did not have the required authority to license operators offering more than one type of gambling product from the same domain name.
The net effect of the ruling, which continues to filter out from the courts as operators come to terms with the decision, suggests that Belgian online operators may only legitimately offer one gambling service per URL.
The ruling was made following a challenge from a Belgian land-based casino, which argued that land-based operators were unable to offer more than one gambling service on the same premises. Rocoluc NV successfully argued that while Belgian-based casino operators could only offer casino services, for example, online operators were currently getting a free pass.
The courts agreed, and the decision has now caused further unease amongst the legitimate operators striving to build their presence within the Belgian market.
The development would now mean that Belgian operators would have to reapply under a different URL for a new license for each type of gambling product they wanted to offer, and pending any further appeals, this will be settled as the de facto law in Belgium.
Rocoluc has been seen as an increasingly litigious operator in Belgium, with this only the latest high profile case led by the gambling operator to clarify the legal position in the country. Earlier in 2017, Rocoluc flagged Ladbrokes to the courts for offering virtual sports betting through their chain of local betting shops, and was again successful in their action.
However, while virtual sports was removed from Ladbrokes physical outlets, it remained available online for Belgian gamblers, leading to a further action by Rocoluc against the Belgian government, where they were awarded €500,000 in damages as a result of the Ladbrokes breach.
The latest court ruling will mean that online casinos operating in Belgium will be unable to offer services on the same domain or under the same license, and could ultimately end up in certain URLs being blocked for players to prevent breaches.
While the news has been seen as overwhelming positive by Rocoluc, and indeed other land-based operators in Belgium, it remains widely considered amongst analysts as a regressive step.
Belgium remains one of the most restrictive places to gamble in Europe, if not the wider world, and decisions like these only serve to make the market even less attractive for outside operators. While gambling in Belgium is a popular activity and appears to be showing signs of growth amongst the population, restrictions like these will continue to limit choice – ultimately to the detriment of the average Belgian gambler.
But these measures will go further than that, depriving Belgium of the potential for significant state revenues from legitimately licensed operators.