The powers of the Belgian Gambling Commission: Insights from Denis Philippe, Partner at Philippe and Partners
Legal expert Dennis Philippe discusses the impact of Circular no. 07/2023 on Belgian gambling regulations, player protection, and challenges.
Dennis Philippe, partner at Philippe and Partners, Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain and Visiting professor at the University of Paris X sheds light on the impact of Circular no. 07/2023 in the Belgian gambling sector. He discusses the legal framework for player protection, clarifies the powers of the national gambling regulator, and highlights key points such as control powers, criminal policy guidelines, and challenges in combating illegal online gambling.
In circular no. 07/2023 of 9 November 2023, the Belgian Board of Attorney Generals explains the Belgian legal framework for player protection, clarifies the powers of the national gambling regulator as well as cooperation with the public prosecutor's office with the aim of achieving uniform application of the law.
The first part of the circular provides a 'brief' summary of the legal framework applicable to gambling activities in Belgium. In particular, it contains a precise description of all the offences and penalties provided for by law, as well as an explanation of the terms and conditions of the criminal penalty (aggravation of the penalty in certain circumstances, confiscation, closure of establishment, etc.). An interesting section describes the control powers of the Gambling Commission (liaison officers between the police and the Commission, appointment of members of the Commission secretariat as judicial police officers, requests for information from the Commission to the police, etc.).
As Mr. Philippe elaborates, the second part of the circular sets out criminal policy guidelines, under which the public prosecutor's office will focus on four points: illegal establishments, establishments in breach of a licence withdrawal, unlicensed online gambling and failure to comply with EPIS controls. The Public Prosecutor's Office, as Mr. Philippe emphasizes, will instead let the Commission take the lead in cases of irregularities in properly licensed establishments.
However, it is striking to note that in the case of illegal online gambling (the second priority point), in the absence of sufficient resources, the circular, as Mr. Philippe observes, provides for the Commission to continue with its "amicable" strategy of sending a formal notice and drawing up a blacklist (with the introduction of a stop-page if the site is not deactivated following the formal notice).
In other words, this circular will not improve the fight against illegal online operators, who are currently the biggest threat to the legal strategy of channelling players towards a legal and approved offer. Indeed, illegal online operators undermine the protection of players, who do not benefit from any of the safeguards put in place by the Belgian legislator. They also threaten the profitability of legal operators who, precisely because of the rules protecting players, are unable to compete with the illegal offer. This phenomenon also causes a significant loss of tax resources for the Belgian State.
It is therefore regrettable that the circular does not seize the opportunity to strengthen cooperation and resources dedicated to combating these illegal activities.
On the other hand, we welcome the recent draft bill to extend to illegal online gambling the scope of the Belgian judicial procedure for combating counterfeiting (injunctive proceedings that can be brought at the initiative of any interested party and which, in theory, make it possible to confiscate bets and winnings from illegal gambling sites).
Finally, it should be emphasized, as Mr. Philippe concludes, that additional legislative initiatives are urgently needed to step up the fight against illegal online gambling. In particular, the banking and telecoms operators should be involved, as Mr. Philippe suggests, and the Gambling Commission's power to impose administrative fines should be strengthened (e.g. elimination of the six-month waiting period for the public prosecutor's office to take a position).