The Bwin half of online gambling operator Bwin.party has lost its legal bid to compel Belgian gaming authorities to remove its name from the country’s unauthorized operator blacklist. On May 9, Bwin found its dot-com site – along with that of Betfair, William Hill, Stan James and several others – on the Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) most wanted list. Bwin earned this honor via its refusal to stop offering services to Belgian punters while its applications for land and online Belgian gaming licenses were pending. Bwin’s dot-com site was subsequently blocked by Belgian ISPs, but Bwin continued to email Belgian punters directions to unblocked Bwin domains. Bwin then proceeded to launch legal action against the BGC, demanding €300k for every day Bwin remained on the blacklist, prompting a tit-for-tat suit by the BGC demanding a similar sum for every day that Bwin continued to flout the law of the land.
In denying Bwin’s request, the President of the Court of First Instance in Brussels said Bwin’s claim had “no legal merit.” However, the Court declined to award the BGC the €300k/day fines it had sought, reasoning that since the ruling had rejected Bwin’s claim, the BGC’s counterclaim no longer had a reason for being. Totally Gaming quoted Bart Heynickx, one of the ALTIUS attorneys who represented the BGC in court, as saying the ruling proved that “an online gambling operator that willfully chose to undertake illegal activities cannot expect protection from the Belgian courts.” Bwin has offered no indication whether it plans to appeal the ruling.
The ruling could have repercussions far beyond Belgian borders. Last week, during the Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) hearing on William Hills’ 2011 acquisition of Nevada-based sportsbooks, regulators pressed Hills on its late May withdrawal from the Australian online gambling market. This abrupt Aussie exit was widely perceived as Hills’ attempt to shed any regulatory taint resulting from continued operations in a legally grey market. During the hearing, GCB chairman Mark Lipparelli said Hills should have made those legal determinations before accepting wagers from punters in such jurisdictions (rather than doing so only when it appeared to serve their interests in a potentially bigger market). Bwin.party has yet to have its day under the GCB’s microscope, but we’re sure Nevada regulators will have some pointed questions regarding Bwin’s determination to disregard the edicts of the GCB’s counterparts in Belgium.