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Belgium: Gaming Commission takes aim at players

Patrick Van Eecke and Antoon Dierick (DLA Piper, Brussels) discuss recent media coverage in relation to the Belgian Gaming Commission’s (BGC) intentions to invoke the liability of individual players of unlicensed games of chance.

By Patrick Van Eecke and Antoon Dierick

Since the amendment in 2010 of the Belgian Gaming Act of 7 May 1999, effective as from 2011, both operators of illegal games of chance (article 4 §1 of the Act) and the natural persons playing these games (article 4 §2 of the Act) can be criminally sanctioned. According to article 64 of the Gaming Act, persons participating in illegal games of chance can be criminally sanctioned with imprisonment of one month up to three years and/or a fine of up to 150.000 EUR (to be doubled in case of recidivism within five years after a conviction).

In absence of criminal sanctions (e.g. because of the Public Prosecution office’s decision not to prosecute the case), the BGC can itself impose an administrative fine amounting to the same maximum.

This possibility to sanction the players criminally or administratively applies both in a bricks-and-mortar and online environment. As an example of the former, players participating in illegal poker tournaments, for example, could be held liable for breaching the law.

Another example is playing on unlicensed one-ball and bingo machines in pubs. As we wrote before, pubs must obtain a so-called “C license” from the BGC when intending to offer games of chance in their establishment and when such license has been obtained, the pub in question may install a maximum of two machines (either Bingo or One-ball machines). According to its 2012 annual report (the 2013 report not yet being made publicly available), nearly 8.000 Belgian pubs had obtained a C license from the BGC.

The BGC has reportedly brought proceedings against three persons caught gambling on illegal betting machines in a pub. Betting terminals do not fall under the scope of the games that can be offered in a C licensed pub. As a result, both the operator of the terminal, the pub (if not the same) and the players on those terminals can be held liable.

The aforementioned actions relate to offline gambling/betting operations, but the BGC has reportedly announced that it would extend its actions to online players as well. It will be interesting to see how far the BGC wishes to go in fining individual players and whether the Public Prosecution office is also willing to make infringements in this area a matter of prosecution priority. In any case, it is to be expected that in the online context, the BGC will refer to its blacklisting (and whitelisting) practice to hold that the players should have been aware of the existing restrictions.

We will of course further report on any further developments on this topic on the Belgian market.

For more information, please contact patrick.van.eecke@dlapiper.com or antoon.dierick@dlapiper.com