Trade groups are protesting a bill in Belgium that would ban cross-selling or allowing customers to transfer funds between betting and online casino accounts.
Draft amendments to Belgium’s gambling law, introduced by Green Party MP Stefaan Van Hecke, are due for further discussion by the parliamentary justice committee later today (February 9).
The proposals would see a ban on offering different forms of licensed gambling on the same domain, meaning an online casino and online betting platform, for example, could not share the same web address.
Operators would also not be allowed to cross-sell players from one type of gambling to another and would need players to set up individual accounts for each. Gamblers would also be prohibited from transferring funds between different accounts.
The Belgian Association of Gambling Operators (BAGO) is appealing to politicians to reconsider the proposals, arguing they will be a step backwards in player protection.
“The frequency and the change in gaming behaviour are two extremely important indicators for detecting potentially problematic behaviour in a timely manner. Any form of splitting of player accounts will greatly hinder the application of these two crucial indicators,” said Dennis Mariën, a board member at the trade group.
The draft is seen as an attempt to transfer earlier court rulings into law, but the BAGO argues its authors have “misread” existing case law.
The BAGO said that operators are increasingly investing in systems like artificial intelligence (AI) to perform advanced tracking of player behaviour in order to limit gambling harm. The proposed restrictions, it said, would massively hamper those efforts.
“The government is shooting itself in the foot with this,” said Massimo Menegalli, another BAGO board member.
“It denies the opportunity to gain a better understanding of problematic gaming behaviour through scientific research on aggregated player data and to issue preventive measures.”
The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) echoed BAGO’s concerns.
"We believe that the government's proposal to split gambling websites and player accounts would be counterproductive because of its negative effect on the behaviour of players, and it would also make the operator's duty of care towards the player more difficult to realise,” said its secretary general, Martin Haijer.
“From the operator's perspective, a coherent overview of all the transactions and behaviour of every consumer is the only way to offer them effective consumer protection. If, as a result of the proposed amendment to the law, a fragmentation of the information is imposed, an operator will no longer be able to oversee the entire behaviour of the consumer, across all products, and will be impeded from detecting risky behaviour in their play," he said.
In its current form, the bill would be even more restrictive, including a general ban on gambling advertising and offering bonuses or other incentives.
However, after initial committee discussions in parliament last week the proposed advertising crackdown appeared to be a sticking point, as did a proposal to raise the legal gambling age to 21.
Bill author Van Hecke said after the meeting: “The discussion about curtailing gambling advertising has yet to begin. There may be further amendments. I cannot yet indicate where that discussion within the majority will lead.”
But the BAGO is clearly focused on the more realistic prospect of splitting up different gambling verticals, arguing in its statement that it would fuel the black market and make stopping money laundering more difficult.
“Players are looking for the best customer experience and forcing them to open and maintain several accounts simultaneously will encourage them to look for more customer-friendly websites that allow them the option to play with various products on the same platform, but which by definition will not be regulated in Belgium,” agreed the EGBA’s Haijer.
The BAGO said it wants to work with the government to agree voluntary measures that would increase player protection and it would back a legal duty of care for gambling operators.
It also said its members represent up to 70 percent of the private offline and online gambling market in Belgium and include Ardent Group, Napoleon and Kindred’s Unibet.