Belgium: One-Ball and bingo legislation for pubs under scrutiny

A recent draft bill proposed to amend the Belgian Gaming Act so as to allow municipalities to restrict the number of gaming machines in pubs.

Regulatory framework.

Under the Belgian Gaming Act of 7 May 1999, the operation of games of chance is restricted to entities holding a license granted by the Belgian Gaming Commission. The Gaming Act makes a distinction between several classes of establishments in which games of chance may be offered: casinos, arcades, betting shops and pubs.

In accordance with the definition used by the Belgian Public Service on Public Health (in order to apply the general smoking ban in the hotel and catering industry), the Gaming Commission defines pubs (under the Gaming Act referred to as “Class III establishments”) as establishments of which the main activity consists exclusively in offering beverages for on-the-spot consumption, including alcoholic beverages, and where no food products for on-the-spot consumption are offered other than prepacked products.

Pubs must obtain a C license from the Gaming Commission when intending to offer games of chance in their establishment. The C license only allows for the installation of two types of electronic billiard games, namely Bingo and One-ball machines (Royal Decree 2 March 2004), hence the organization of other games of chance is prohibited. Moreover, pubs are not allowed to place more than two of those machines in their establishment.

According to its 2012 annual report, nearly 8000 Belgian pubs have obtained a C license from the Gaming Commission.

The regulations criticized.

Recently, the mayors of Schaarbeek, Sint-Joost-ten-Node and Evere, 3 municipalities in the Brussels Region have uttered objections against the legal provisions above-cited.
In their respective municipality councils, a motion was voted in which the Federal Government is urged to revise the Gaming Act.

More in particular, the mayors require that the municipal authorities, under certain conditions and with due justification, be granted the competence for their municipality to either limit the maximum number of gaming machines to one per establishment (instead of two) or to impose a maximum amount of Bingo/One-ball machines in their municipality.

As a motion by the municipalities is not binding for the legislator, the mayor of Schaarbeek, in his capacity of MP, introduced a draft bill to change the Belgian Gaming Act in accordance with what has been stated in the municipality motions (giving competence to the municipalities to restrict the number of gaming machines in their territory). This draft bill is yet to be discussed in the Belgian Parliament. It will be worthwhile following whether this draft bill will reach the plenary session and whether a sufficient majority will be found to adopt its proposed measures.

Should you have any further questions regarding the above, please contact Patrick Van Eecke (Patrick.vaneecke@dlapiper.com) or Antoon Dierick (Antoon.dierick@dlapiper.com).