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Kevin Smith

Making It Happen in Belgium - A Steep Task

13 January 2005

If regulators have their way, online casinos could be licensed in Belgium by the end of the year, but getting there won't be easy.

Marc Callu from the Belgian games of chance commission is urging Belgian lawmakers to create a system that would recognize legitimate gaming sites on the Internet in an effort to protect Belgian consumers. He said there's a need for such a system because the number of online gambling sites is growing and unregulated sites are a risk to Belgian consumers.

" Why not do what the U.K. and others are doing and let them operate in Belgium and set up service here?"
- Ewout Keuleers

Only minor changes to existing Belgian law would be required, according to Callu, for online gambling sites to be recognized as legal operations in Belgium.

But permission to move forward with any sort of regulation for online gambling sites won't come easy, says Ewout Keuleers, a Belgian lawyer and advisor to the gambling board for remote gambling issues.

Keuleers points out that the National Lottery wants to protect its interests, and the situation has become very political.

"They are moving forward slowly, and as long as they stay away from the National Lottery, it is OK," Keuleers said. "But the National Lottery feels like it has the right to online games and won't let anyone else do it, so the whole process kind of gets stalled out."

Games of chance are allowed in Belgium only when the games of chance commission grants a special license. The law doesn't allow the commission to grant permission to Internet sites, despite the rising number of Belgians participating in online gambling.

In 2000, the gambling board considered a plan to grant licenses for online casinos, but the idea never made it past the proposal stage due in large part to lobbying efforts from the National Lottery.

The National Lottery was permitted in 1999 to operate online but has yet to roll out any Internet products, and the gambling board has mounted a legal challenge to the exclusivity of the National Lottery's Internet rights. The courts have thus far failed to provide adequate clarification.

Keuleers said that empowering the board to issue online gambling licenses would enable it to gain a competitive advantage in an otherwise cutthroat marketplace.

"You can't compete with the private operators," he said. They will beat you every time. Why not do what the U.K. and others are doing and let them operate in Belgium and set up service here?"

Lawmakers in Belgium appear to be divided on the issue.

Callu said the country's top legal expert, Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx, is in favor of amending the games of chance law to include Internet gambling, but has yet to take any initiative.

Meanwhile the Belgian Working Party against Gambling Addiction would rather see Internet gambling sites fined and severely punished for taking action from Belgian residents.

The group says that more than 4,000 problem gamblers are taken into its care each year in Belgium alone and that those numbers will increase if Internet gambling sites are approved by the government.

Licensed gambling via other media channels, meanwhile, could receive approval first. A bill proposed in December would allow the operation of casino games via mobile phones, interactive television and other wireless channels, and Keuleers believes it will be adopted soon. The same cannot be said for the Internet gambling regulations.

"It will probably be some time before anything is done one way or the other in regards to Internet gambling," Keuleers said.

He also pointed out that two of the gambling board's 15 members come from the National Lottery, making the process of getting a general consensus on any issue difficult.

Making It Happen in Belgium - A Steep Task is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith