Belgium’s justice minister has said he is “done with gambling advertising”, as the country notifies the European Commission of its draft royal decree to severely restrict gambling advertising.
Discussing the raft of proposed restrictions on national radio, justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said: "From now on, the philosophy is that only people who want to gamble and are actively looking for information on gambling will be confronted with advertising on this subject in the future."
Under the proposals, advertising will be limited to business-to-business promotions, incidental advertising on the reporting of sports events and logos on sports teams' shirts and facilities, as long as they do not exceed 20 percent of the advertising space or are bigger than 70 square metres.
Licensees can broadcast sponsorship messages, including their trademark or logo, during international, European or Belgian sports tournaments.
However, these broadcasts must appear in a window either 15 minutes before or after the live broadcast event, cannot exceed five seconds and are limited to two per hour.
Both sport sponsorships and adverts during live events will only be allowed during a transitional period until January 1, 2025.
Licensees would be able to advertise product placements on foreign TV, unless the broadcasts are targeted at the Belgian market.
Gambling venues will be limited to advertising their logos on a single facade of their building, which cannot exceed 30 percent of the surface of the facade or be bigger than 20 square metres. Inside gambling venues, licensees can advertise themselves and their products.
One of the few opportunities to market online will be through social media pages and online search platform results, if players search terms related to gambling.
The proposal also includes a raft of general provisions on authorised advertising, including banning the use of famous people or fictional characters in adverts.
Advertising contracts concluded before May 10, 2022 between licensees and advertising agencies remain valid under the same conditions until October 1, 2023.
The end of the standstill period has yet to be set.
Georges-Louis Bouchez, president of Mouvement Réformateur, which is currently part of the ruling coalition, said his party is completely against the proposed “ban” on gambling ads.
Bouchez fears the restrictions would drive players to the black market and damage the financial situation of sports teams in the country.
“The minister of justice's proposal is a very bad response to a real challenge for which measures already exist that can be improved,” Bouchez said.
The Belgium Association of Gambling Operators (BAGO) said private operators are “outraged” over the proposals and questioned why the National Lottery, which it claims accounts for 40 percent of the industry’s marketing spend, will not also be banned from public adverts.
“Advertising is necessary to guide consumers towards legal, controlled and safe gambling. Foreign examples, such as Italy and Spain, where advertising and sponsorship were banned in 2019, concretely show the dangers of an advertising ban. For example, since the introduction of a total ban in Italy, there has been a growth of the illegal sector of up to 50 percent,” according to BAGO.
BAGO denied claims by the minister of justice on the radio on May 9 that there was a consultation with the industry prior to the proposals being released.
As an alternative to the restrictions, BAGO suggests new technologies and data aggregation techniques used to inform the development of a duty of care for the sector that would better serve the government’s stated aim of improving consumer protection.
In April 2022, the Belgian Gaming Commission published its views supporting more gambling advertising restrictions and for its enforcement powers to be expanded.
Among a raft of suggested “strict rules” for advertising, the gaming commission backed banning personalised advertising toward young people and excluded players, as well as individuals that have not participated in gambling “for a certain period of time”.
Part of the commission’s remit is to advise the government and parliament on any legal or regulatory initiative related to gambling. The regulator reported that it had sent its advice on advertising to the government.
In the past, members of the gaming commission have spoken out against a complete gambling advertising ban during a parliamentary hearing, arguing a ban would not have much impact on reducing gambling stakes and risk strengthening the black market.