Belgian law change mandates separation of online gaming products

| By Daniel O'Boyle
Belgium’s Constitutional Court has confirmed the annulment of the country’s 1999 Gambling Act, in a decision that confirms that operators may not offer different types of game on the same website.

The act had largely been replaced by a 2019 equivalent, meaning there is little change beyond confirming the separation of online gaming (A+) and online betting (F1+) product verticals.

The ruling from the Constitutional Court came after a previous 2018 ruling on whether licensees could offer different categories of game – such as sports betting and casino gaming – via the same domain name.

At the time, the court ruled that operators may not do so, as online gambling was to be treated similarly to its land-based counterpart. Belgian regulations already state that land-based establishments may not offer different product verticals at the same site.

Previously, under a 2017 ruling in the Brussels Court of Appeal, different categories of game could be offered via the same domain.

However, the subject of the 2018 case – Rocoluc, an operator that held a B licence for gaming and its B+ online equivalent- argued that this was unfair.

“The requesting party justifies its interest in bringing proceedings by the fact that it is disadvantaged by unfair competition arising from the combined operation, via the same domain name, of games of chance and bets” the court said. “According to the requesting party, this cumulative exploitation allows licensees to benefit from increased visibility and to achieve economies of scale and significant revenue from gambling and advertising profits, whereas such cumulative exploitation is not possible in the real world.”

Although the Constitutional Court ruled at this time that the law should be annulled, this then faced a challenge from the country’s Council of Ministers, with the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) also supporting the challenge.

The Council of Ministers argued that the 2018 decision was “based on an erroneous understanding of the legal context in question”.

It argued that it was possible for a Class I casino operator to offer multiple forms of land-based gambling at one venue, meaning that the court’s decision to prohibit multiple forms of gambling on the same website in the name of equity between sectors would not make sense.

In addition, the Council of Ministers argued that domain names and retail establishments were not analogous. Instead, it said the equivalent of a retail establishment would be a URL, and that online operators should therefore be permitted to offer gambling at different URLs within the same domain.

Roculuc, meanwhile, argued that the court had made its decision clear and that the Council of Ministers was asking it to go back on its earlier decision without evidence.

The court ultimately rejected the Council of Ministers’ arguments, adn said that “contrary to what the Council of Ministers maintains, the operation of betting in a Class I establishment would be contrary to” the law.

As a result, it confirmed the annulment of the law.

The law around operating multiple games a the same site had previously led to the Belgian gaming Commission annulling the licence of Casinos Austria International (CAI). This came after Betway, via its dot.be domain, offers both online casino games, under CAI’s A+ licence, and sports betting, under an F1+ licence. 

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