Belgium: Online “Casinos” and Challenges to EU Commission Recommendation

Written on 23 Jan 2015

Belgium’s highest administrative court has allowed online games of chance to refer to their websites as “Casinos”. The decision is not yet final, as some traditional casinos are challenging it on grounds of unfair competition.

Another challenge, this time by the Belgian State, has been brought before the European Court of Justice against an EU Commission Recommendation on consumer and youth protection in connection with gambling services. Belgium, which is expected to be joined by other member states, claims that the Commission acted outside its jurisdiction.

BELGIUM’S HIGHEST ADMINISTRATIVE COURT ALLOWS USE OF TERM ‘CASINO’ BY ONLINE GAMES OF CHANCE WEBSITE

On 18 November 2014, Belgium’s highest administrative court (‘Raad van State’ or ‘Conseil d’Etat’) annulled part of the BGC’s decision, which prohibits B+ licensees from presenting themselves as ‘casino’s’, (a prerogative of A/A+ licensees only, according to the BGC). The claim before the High Administrative Court was brought by a Company called S.A. ROCOLUC, owner of a (B) licensed game arcade, called the “Bridge”, and subsequent (B+) licensed online games arcade website, “www.casinobelgium.be”. According to ROCOLUC, the BGC is not competent to issue a prohibition, which is not also imposed by the BAG or by any of the related Royal Decrees. The High Administrative Court followed ROCOLUC’s legal reasoning and determined that the BAG nor the related Royal Decrees prohibit ROCOLUC from using a commercial tradename, consisting of or comprising the word “Casino”. The case does not seem to end here, as two Belgian casinos (the casinos in Blankenberge and Middelkerke) reportedly initiated third party opposition proceedings against the High Administrative Court’s decision. They consider it unfair that a games of chance provider is allowed to use the word “casino”, without also being subject to the obligations or rigorous controls imposed on A/A+ licensees. To be continued…

BELGIAN GAMING COMMISSION CLARIFIES GAMING LAW PROVISION 43

In a note of October 2014, the Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) clarifies the meaning of the term “competition” in article 43/4, §2, al.5 of the Belgian Act of 7 May 1999 on games of chance, gambling, games of chance establishments and the protection of players (BAG). According to article 43/4, §2, al.5 of the BAG temporary game of chance establishments are not allowed to accept bets other than those related to the specific event, game or competition at hand.

Whereas the concepts ‘specific event or game at hand’ are deemed sufficiently clear by the BGC, the concept of “bets related to the competition at hand” raises question marks. According to the BGC, “competition” must be understood in a broad sense, be it limited by the following two conditions: (i) it only refers to bets regarding the same category of sports (e.g. only bets regarding football games or only bets regarding tennis competitions); and (ii) is limited to competitions which take place in countries that offer sufficient safeguards against “match fixing”.

BELGIUM BRINGS ACTION BEFORE ECJ SEEKING ANNULMENT OF COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION 2014/478/EU

On 13 October 2014 the Belgian State brought an action before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) seeking the annulment of the Commission Recommendation 2014/478/EU of 14 July 2014 on principles for the protection of consumers and players of online gambling services and for the prevention of minors from gambling. Belgium claims that the EU Commission overstepped its competence in adopting Recommendation 2014/478/EU, as the EU treaties “do not confer on the Commission the competence to adopt an instrument with harmonising effect in the games of chance sector”. At the heart of Belgium’s claim lies the fear that standards less stringent than those currently maintained under the BAG would be introduced by Recommendation 2014/478/EU. Other EU Member States are expected to follow suit and join Belgium’s action.