Controversial Belgian Ad Ban Given Green Light

December 20, 2022
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Belgium’s Ministry of Justice has said the draft royal decree to severely restrict gambling ads has been finalised by the government.

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Belgium’s Ministry of Justice has said the draft royal decree to severely restrict gambling ads has been finalised by the government.

The news was quickly met with criticism from a trade group and political opposition party, as they fear the restrictions will see consumers turn to illegal operators.

Having received no fundamental objections to its proposed draft royal decree laying down detailed rules for advertising gambling, the government has said its new rules on advertising will come into effect on July 1, 2023, according to a justice department update.

Details of the decree were initially submitted to the European Council in May 2022 and received similar backlash from the same stakeholders.

The latest update includes a long list of where gambling adverts will be banned, including on television, radio, websites, social media platforms, newspapers, posters in public places, personalised ads sent by email, post, messaging services, SMS or social networks and any printed advertising material.

Both sport sponsorships and adverts during live events will only be allowed during a transitional period until January 1, 2025.

“In addition, strict ethical and formal rules with which other forms of advertising for games of chance must comply will be defined. Those who want to play can still do so. Only people who actively search for gambling information and want to gamble will still encounter gambling advertising,” according to the press release.

The release cited a 2017 Belgian study that found that 33 percent of “intensive gamblers” surveyed were persuaded to gamble after receiving emails from gambling companies, while 31 percent gambled after seeing ads online. One in three of them was encouraged to do so by advertisements on billboards, on posters or during sports competitions.

Additionally, it says vulnerable people are the most influenced by gambling advertising, with the justice ministry saying 28.9 percent of job seekers who did not gamble said that gambling advertising could convince them to start gambling.

Deputy Prime Minister and minister of justice Vincent Van Quickenborne replied to the story on social media saying the government is “done playing poker with people’s lives”.

“We do not bow to the gambling mafia and [will] restrict gambling advertising. [We have got the] Green light from the Council of State, Europe and the government,” he wrote.

His message was quickly responded to by Georges-Louis Bouchez, president of the opposition party Mouvement Réformateur (MR), who accused the minister of “once again going too fast”.

“There is no agreement on the text of the games of chance since the text was not shown to the partners. Important questions remain to be determined. Also, talking about the gambling mafia is totally disrespectful,” he said.

The Belgian Association of Gaming Operators (BAGO) responded to the news with similar disdain, claiming gambling operators are outraged by the “drastic ban”, warning that a “golden age” is approaching for illegal operators.

“BAGO has repeatedly spoken out in favour of limiting advertising, including in traditional media. But we have also always warned that a total ban on advertising in media where illegal operators have a massive presence, especially online, would have serious side effects. The federal government has decided to ignore this warning and deliver the player to the illegal market,” BAGO president Tom De Clercq said.

The Belgian gambling regulator’s 2021 annual report estimated that around 20 percent of the market is occupied by illegal operators. BAGO warns this could increase, as 50 percent of the Italian market is controlled by illegal operators, it claims, in part due to its strict ban on gambling advertising.

BAGO argues that the government is not focusing on “real solutions to strengthen consumer protection”, such as data aggregation that makes it possible to detect and prevent risky behaviour.

The trade group proposes to “develop a general legal framework to impose the duty of supervision on the entire sector. Such a duty of supervision would require, among other things, that all operators monitor the gaming behaviour of their players, proactively inform players of any changes in behaviour and offer them the possibility of self-imposed breaks and limits."

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