• Belgian Government Introduces New Draft Gaming Act in Parliament
  • July 6, 2009 | Author: Christoph P. M. De Preter
  • Law Firm: Crowell & Moring - Brussels Office
  • The Belgian Government has introduced a draft act in both the Belgian Senate and the House of Representatives. The draft act aims at reforming and modernizing the Belgian gaming and betting legislation, and in particular the 1999 Act on games of chance. The act provides in some far-reaching and controversial changes.

    Introduction
    In Belgium, gaming and betting is governed by several sets of legislation. In general, a distinction must be made between lotteries, games of chance and sports betting. The most comprehensive piece of legislation is the 1999 Act on games of chance, which however does not cover lotteries or sports betting. With the draft act, the Belgian Government now aims at

    • expanding the powers of the supervisory body, the Gaming Commission;
    • expanding the scope of the 1999 Act on games of chance so that it also covers sports betting;
    • expanding the scope of the 1999 Act on games of chance so that it also covers online gaming and betting;
    • expanding the scope of the 1999 Act on games of chance so that it also covers media games.

    Timing

    The Belgian government has introduced the draft act in both the House of representatives and the Senate, and aims at having a parliamentary vote before the end of July 2009. The entry into force of the draft act would probably be scheduled for January 2010.

    The contents of the draft act
    From a TMT perspective, the draft act contains several innovations, some of which may give rise to debate and criticism.

    First , licensed operators of a casino (license A), a gaming arcade (license B) or of a betting service (license F1) will be able to obtain a license to offer their services online (via a so-called ‘+-license’, either A+, B+ or F1+). The licensed operators will be subject to a number of conditions such as age controls, proving the reliability of payment transactions, etc. One of the most important conditions is that the server from which the online games are offered must be based within Belgium.

    This innovation may be subject to criticism because only incumbent, land-based license holders will be able to apply for an online license.

    Second, TV-, radio- and print media will need to obtain a license in order to offer games via their various channels. This is either a G1-license for television programs entirely focused on the game in question, and a G2-license for all other games (SMS-games, promotions in magazines etc.). The G1-license can only be obtained by broadcasters legally recognized in Belgium.

    This innovation may again be subject to criticism because it is unclear why a licensing system needed to be imposed upon the media sector whereas, seemingly without any problem, media games have been offered since many years without licensing requirement. In addition, foreign broadcasters may object to the fact that they cannot obtain a G1-license.

    Third, intermediaries may increasingly appear on the Gaming Commission’s radar since the draft act provides for a blanket-type prohibition pursuant to which no intermediary may knowingly provide services or publicity that contributes to the operation of a game of chance for which no license was obtained.

    This innovation may also be subject to criticism since the European Court of Justice and the European Commission take a particularly critical approach towards legislation restricting the free movement of betting and gambling services and unduly tackling and restricting the rights of intermediaries.

    Analysis and conclusion
    The Belgian government has the merit of finally making an attempt to introduce more coherence in the Belgian gaming and betting legislation. However, the question is whether this attempt will pass the test of the European Commission and of the European Court of Justice, which are increasingly critical of national legislations that unduly limit the free movement of cross-border gaming services.

    Interested parties may still try to intervene in the legislative process but time is short, since a parliamentary vote is expected before Summer.