Belgium Set For Slots Crackdown But No Cut Yet In Age Restrictions

February 4, 2022
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Belgian politicians are set to agree a crackdown on slot machines and the use of bonuses by operators to entice new gamblers, but wider reform of advertising rules and age limits are a long way off.

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Belgian politicians are set to agree a crackdown on slot machines and the use of bonuses by operators to entice new gamblers, but wider reform of advertising rules and age limits are a long way off.

The House Finance Committee this week debated a bill to reform the country’s gambling laws, with a number of amendments agreed.

They included stopping the spread of what are known as 3.3 slot machines in public areas such as petrol stations, shopping malls and youth hostels.

Stricter identity checks will also be brought in to regulate the use of slot machines in newsagents and racecourses, with an electronic identity card needed to play to protect children and gambling addicts who have self-excluded themselves.

However, there was no agreement about raising the age at which people can gamble to 21 or new limits on gambling advertising and sponsorship, despite the country’s gambling regulator demanding more restrictive regulations and even a potential ban after a damning report revealed the effect of promotions during a major Belgian football competition in 2019.

Observers said moves to introduce a general minimum age for gambling of 21, as originally envisaged, had been weakened, with gambling still expected to be possible in the future from the age of 18 in some contexts.

“We have not been able to reach an agreement within the government on this. But that is not a step back, it is not a relaxation. The situation as it exists today is simply frozen," Green MP Stefaan van Hecke said after the debate of his bill.

Last week, justice minister Vincent van Quickenborne had promised movement before the end of the year on limiting gambling advertising and sponsorship. However, agreement still seemed distant after this week’s debate.

MP Philippe Pivin said a proposed “general ban on gambling advertising and sponsorship … is unacceptable to us”.

Van Hecke said he hoped there may be some political compromise on the issue in the coming weeks and months.

“The discussion about curtailing gambling advertising has yet to begin,” he said. “There may be further amendments. I cannot yet indicate where that discussion within the majority will lead.”

Other measures that were set to be approved included a move for gambling operators to be banned from offering gifts and bonuses to attract new customers.

Operators will also be prohibited from combining different licences on one website. For example, anyone who is on a betting website will not simply be able to click through to a website with casino games.

The move to introduce electronic identity cards to gamble in newsagents was welcomed by campaigners.

Van Hecke said: “Today you can bet up to 200 euros per day or 6,000 euros per month in newsagents on bets, without checking. That will be a thing of the past."

Gambling has recently become an even more highly charged political issue in Belgium after the recent controversial sale of 175 newsagents by Bpost to the gambling company Golden Palace.

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