Constitutional Court Overrules Belgian Online Gaming Laws

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017 | Written by April Bergman
Constitutional Court Overrules Belgian Online Gaming Laws

Belgium’s Constitutional Court ruled that the Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) has no right to issue a gaming license to online gambling sites that offer more than one type of betting through the same domain. If a site offers online casino gaming, poker games, and sports betting through the same website, it would be illegal under Belgian law.

Rocoluc NV is the operator which brought the court case. Rocoluc operates the CasinoBelgium.be domain, which offers online casino games. Rocoluc mounted its legal challenge to a 2011 Belgian online gambling amendment, which governs Internet betting sites in the small Western European nation.

According to Rocoluc NV, Belgian land-based gambling permits do not allow operators to offer several types of gambling under the same license. Using that logic, Rocoluc’s lawyers argued that online gambling should follow the same legal pattern.

BGC’s New Online Gambling Policies

The Belgian Gaming Council has not commented on the court ruling yet, but the gaming regulator likely is changing its policies before making an annoucement. The most likely outcome is websites licensed by the BGC will have to reapply for separate licenses for each of their online products.

Another possible outcome is certain online gambling sites might be banned outright in the Belgian gaming market. If they have multiple licenses, operators might have to relaunch gaming portals which fit into the new Belgian gaming model.

The ruling shows why many gaming companies prefer to split their sports betting, casino games, and card rooms, even when they offer all three. In a world with 200-plus sets of gambling laws, combining several types of gaming leads to more national bans on a site.

2011 Belgian Online Gambling Laws

On January 1, 2011, the Belgian online gambling amendment went into force. Under the new law passed by the Belgian parliament in late-2010, online games of chance and wagers required a full iGaming license.

The 2011 online gambling bill required Belgian operators to have a physical connection to Belgian territory. That is, only land-based operators could apply for a Belgian online gambling license. That is similar to the model US states have in their online gambling industries, where only gaming operators licensed in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Nevada can apply for an online gaming license.

Belgian Gambling Law Is Parallel

While that system works well from a vetting perspective, it creates legal questions like those addressed by the Constitutional Court and Rocoluc. As Steven De Schrijver of Astrea Advocaten said back when the 2011 law was passed, “The Belgian gambling legislation thus introduces a parallelism between the offline and the online licences.”

That allowed Rocoluc to argue that all other aspects of Belgian gambling law is parallel, so the system for licensing different types of gaming should be the same. The arguments worked with the Constitutional Court, and the ruling should be solid under EU Commission international commerce laws.

Western European Online Gambling Laws

The ruling comes at a time when Western European nations are redefining their online gambling laws. Throughout 2017, the Netherlands has been in the process of amending its online gambling laws.

Meanwhile, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal agreed to a poker liquidity sharing agreement — a deal with wide implications for online poker players in those countries.

Even the ongoing dispute between the Spanish national government in Madrid and the Catalonian regional government in Barcelona has implications for online gambling in Western Europe. Because Catalan poker players have the highest per capita income of all Spanish card players, Catalonian independence might undermine the 4-nation poker player sharing agreement’s profitability.