Belgium’s online gambling operators are mulling a legal challenge of the country’s new €500 deposit limit, as their business is already down nearly two-fifths due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, the Belgian Association of Gambling Operators (BAGO) publicly expressed its displeasure with the Belgian Gambling Commission’s decision to impose a €500 weekly deposit limit per customer across all Belgian-licensed sites. The BGC justified the move by saying gamblers need extra help resisting temptation during their COVID-19 self-isolation.
BAGO members plan to challenge this new limit, which can be lowered even further at a customer’s request but cannot be lifted under any circumstances, regardless of whether a customer can demonstrate sufficient financial capacity to justify higher spending.
This type of upper-limit wiggle room was supposed to be permissible under the old rules, provided a customer’s finances were verified by the National Bank of Belgium’s Central Individual Credit Center. But even under those rules, any increase request wouldn’t take effect for three days to ensure gamblers couldn’t ‘chase’ their losses.
Local media quoted Emmanuel Mewissen, BAGO president and CEO of the Ardent Group, saying Belgian-licensed operators were irate at the BGC for arbitrarily moving the goalposts without consulting its licensees. As a result, BAGO plans to file an appeal of the deposit limit with Belgium’s Council of State.
Mewissen warned that the BGC’s efforts to protect vulnerable gamblers would backfire by forcing customers to turn to internationally licensed gambling sites, whose standards and practices are beyond the reach of the BGC’s enforcement mechanisms.
At any rate, Belgium’s online gamblers are already reining in their activity. Speaking in parliament last week, Justice Minister Koen Geens said there’d been a 38% drop in local online gambling traffic since the pandemic took hold, while the National Lottery has seen its sales fall 30%.
Geens attributed part of this slowdown to the suspension of most major sports league activity, but also “because in the current anxiety-provoking climate, people are losing confidence and playing less.”
Belgium’s gambling operators appear intent on drawing some kind of line in the regulatory sand, lest they find their businesses truly hamstrung. Last summer, Belgian-licensed operators were hit with strict limits on advertising during live sports events, which the BGC recently claimed don’t go far enough.