Belgium: Advertising of games of chance attracts scrutiny

 The Jury for Ethical Practices on advertisements, the Belgian advertising regulator has recently considered a complaint relating to the marketing of games of chance. The Jury for Ethical Practices on advertisements (“JEP” in short) is a self-disciplinary institution of the advertising sector in Belgium. JEP investigates complaints of the general public (particularly of consumers) and also handles questions from advertisers, commercial agencies and media who turn to JEP for advice. JEP has the possibility to ask the advertiser to change or cease its advertisements, when it finds these infringing legal or other provisions; in case this recommendation is not followed, JEP will advise media channels not further to broadcast these advertisements. This advice is generally followed by media channels.

Recently, JEP ruled on a complaint of a citizen relating to a television commercial of an arcade in which several casino-styled games are depicted together with adults participating in them. At the end of the commercial, a reference is shown to the website of the arcade stating that the addresses where the arcade is active can be consulted on the website.

According to the complaint, it is delicate to show participation in games of chance in this way to the general public, taking into account the risks involved such as excessive burden of debt. According to the complainant, such risks should be visibly mentioned in advertisements and the commercial should foresee a statement such as “Games of chance entail certain risks”.

In its decision JEP first notes that, although it is not competent to rule on the legality of games of chance themselves, it is competent to rule on advertisements related to games of chance. Therefore JEP first establishes that the advertiser holds a valid license to exploit an arcade and thus has the right to advertise the services it offers.

Further, JEP considers that Belgian law does not provide for specific rules on advertisements for games of chance or the establishments in which these are offered, and that the legislation thus does not oblige the operator to comply with certain mandatory requirements (such as mentioning certain statements). JEP subsequently takes into account that the advertisement does not depict any minors, and, given the absence of any infringement on legal or self-disciplinary provisions, dismisses the claim.

The above ruling gives the opportunity to repeat the existing rules on advertising games of chance in Belgium. The Belgian Gaming Act of 7 May 1999 stipulates that, as a principle, advertisements for offline and online unlicensed games of chance are prohibited and even criminally sanctioned. However, no further details are provided on which types of advertisements are allowed for licensed games of chance or to which standards these should adhere. Therefore, advertising games of chance in Belgium remains somewhat in a grey zone.

Particularly relating to online games, the Gaming Act (as a result of the amendments made to it during 2010) now also foresees that a Royal Decree can set out more specific legal requirements on advertisements related to the offering of online games of chance. A Royal Decree of 21 June 2011, adopted to this end, stipulates that any operator wishing to apply for a license to operate online, must inform the Belgian Gaming Commission of its advertising policies and that it must proof that “its advertising policies show a certain reticence“. Further, the license applicant must ensure that for each commercial campaign launched, a person is indicated whom the Commission can contact and to whom is given the authority to immediately cease the commercial campaign. Advertisements for online gaming offering are therefore more strictly regulated than commercial campaigns for its offline counterpart.