It took a while before Belgium’s Gambling Commission communicated on the actions they plan to enforce the much contested Gambling Act that entered into force last January, but today the commission announced that it will soon start detecting “illegal” gambling and poker sites and that it will effectively take action to shut down access to those sites and to block the activities of the companies behind the sites on the Belgian national territory.
As we have written in the past (see a.o. https://siriuslegal.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/belgiums-gambling-and-poker-market-definitively-regulated/), Belgium’s gambling and poker market has been seriously reorganized by the new Belgian Gambling Act that came into force on 1 January 2011.
This Gambling Act introduces a system of mandatory licenses by the Belgian Gambling Commission for all gambling or poker related activities both in real life and on the internet. The number of real life casino licenses is limited to 9 and those are all awarded to the pre-existing casino’s in Belgium, but since those already required a license there was no significant change in real life gambling regulations.
The major changes al relate to the online world, where providers now also need a license in order to run a legal website in Belgium. The key issue here is that –apart from a few other obligations- online licenses can only be obtained by providers that already have a real life license (or providers that team up with such a license holder).
This means that the number of legal casino, gambling or poker websites is extremely limited. At this moment, as far as has been publicly announced, only Pokerstars.com has reached a deal with one of the real life casinos and is authorized to offer gambling and poker online in Belgium.
Today, the Gambling Commission announced that it has reached an agreement with the Federal Computer Crime Unit of the Federal Police (FCCU), with the bank sector (through Febelfin) and with all major ISP’s setting up a cooperation to shut down all non-licensed gambling, casino and poker websites (including no doubt mini sites, mobile sites, mobile apps, …).
The Gambling Commission will be establishing a (rather short) white list of authorized sites and a black list of illegal sites. Based on these lists ISP’s will block access to sites, Banks will freeze accounts and the FCCU will start up investigations.
We would like to point out in relation to the FCCU’s activities that offering gambling and poker games without a license is considered a serious crime, that may lead to sentences up to 5 years imprisonment and fines of up to 275.000 euro (both doubled in case of a second conviction).
Caution is therefore needed for all those offering gambling services without a license or without a cooperation deal with a license holder and without complying to other obligations such as server residence in Belgium…
We would like to underline by the way that importing and selling equipment and software in Belgium is also a licensed activity and that those selling gambling website platforms and software, setting up websites, hosting websites, etc… also require a license by the Gambling Commission and, finally, that all marketing activities, advertisement, sponsoring etc… of gambling and poker activities is heavily regulated as well and should be approached with great caution…
Also note that organizing poker tournaments, even in closed circle, is forbidden unless the stakes are kept minimal (adjustement of those criteria, allowing for “reasonable” stakes in poker games, has been announced by the Gambling Commission but has not yet been implimented). The Federal police has repeatedly taken action aganst poker tournament organizers who do not complky with the Gambling Act.
Sirius Legal, as a specialized law firm in gambling law, will continue to monitor the evolution in the field and will continue to advise providers on their rights and obligations under the new law. Read more about the Gambling Act and contact us at http://www.siriuslegal.be