Belgium will greet the new year clutching a new blacklist of unlicensed online gambling sites, which domestic financial institutions and internet service providers will be expected to enforce. There are currently eight companies allowed to operate in Belgium – including PokerStars, PMU and Partouche – but the Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) estimates these sites are being patronized by only 30-40k Belgian players, compared to the 150k playing on unlicensed sites. BGC regulatory chief Peter Naessens told eGamingReview that banks and ISPs would be encouraged to enforce the embargo (initially, at least) against blacklisted sites with the highest number of Belgian players.
Belgium’s move comes despite Members of the European Parliament passing their much-ballyhooed non-binding resolution calling for greater online gambling harmony across member states, and protests from industry groups like the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) and the Remote Gambling Association (RGA). Belgium claims it’s within its rights to enforce an online gambling blacklist under the guise of protecting poor, helpless/hapless Belgian citizens from predatory operators.
With blacklist in hand, the BGC gatekeepers expect the number of licensed sites to expand to 15 by the end of February, and Naessens feels the market could economically sustain a maximum of 20 licensees. However, Naessens revealed that one company not expected to be added to that list anytime soon is bwin.party (Pwin) as “they’re not interested in having a license or saying they don’t need one as the Belgian gambling act is not compatible with EU law.” Much as the Belgian flag’s color scheme mirrors that of Germany, this ‘incompatible’ attitude mirrors Pwin’s insistence (despite court rulings to the contrary) that they are not violating the law by operating in Germany. It also puts Pwin in the awkward position of being considered a rogue operator in a market in which PokerStars — whom Pwin consider criminals for offering services in post-UIGEA America — operates with state blessing. If Pwin co-CEO Norbert Teufelberger ends up facing his second stint in prison on gambling-related charges, will he offer Stars’ supremo Isai Scheinberg an apology?