Belgium’s online gambling operators are raising a legal challenge to the new €500 deposit cap in the region, as their company is already nearly two-fifths down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, the Belgian Association of Gambling Operators (BAGO) publicly expressed its dissatisfaction with the decision by the Belgian Gambling Commission to enforce a weekly deposit cap of €500 per client on all Belgian-licensed platforms. During their COVID-19 self-isolation, the BGC justified the move by saying gamblers need extra help avoiding temptation.
BAGO members expect to appeal this new restriction, which can be further decreased at the request of a customer but can in no circumstances be removed, irrespective of whether a customer can show sufficient financial ability to justify higher expenditure.
This form of upper-limit wiggle room was to be allowable under the old laws, provided the finances of a customer were checked by the Central Individual Credit Center of the National Bank of Belgium. Yet even under those rules, any proposal for an raise would not take effect for three days to ensure gamblers would not be tempted to ‘chase’ their losses.
Regional media quoted Emmanuel Mewissen, Ardent Group’s BAGO president and CEO, saying Belgian-licensed operators were furious at the BGC for moving the goalposts unilaterally without consulting its licensees. As a result, BAGO expects to lodge an appeal with the Belgian Council of State about the deposit cap.
Mewissen cautioned that the BGC’s attempts to protect underage gamblers would backfire by pushing clients to move to globally approved gaming outlets, whose standards and procedures are beyond the BGC’s compliance mechanisms.
Online gamblers in Belgium are already reining in their operation, at any pace. Minister of Justice Koen Geens, speaking in parliament last week, said that there has been a 38% decrease in local online gambling since the pandemic took hold, while the National Lottery has seen its sales drop by 30%.
Geens attributed some of this downturn to the suspension of most major sports league action, but also “because in the current anxiety-provoking climate, people are losing confidence and playing less.”
Belgian gambling operators seem bent on drawing some form of line in the regulatory sand, lest they find their businesses very hamstrung. Last summer, Belgian-licensed operators were hit during live sporting events with strict restrictions on advertisement, which the BGC has recently reported is not going far enough.