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Proposed legislation would tighten gambling restrictions
Belgium’s parliamentary finance committee is discussing a new bill from Green MP Stefaan van Hecke that would reform existing gambling laws, including the possible introduction of a global age limit of 21 years and the restriction of gambling advertising and sponsorship.
The discussion comes in the wake of Bpost’s sale of its 175 newsagents to gambling company Golden Palace, which sparked controversy and drew criticism that it would open a backdoor to gambling via its various lottery products.
While agreement still seems a long way off, reports De Standaard, parties have agreed on a first set of legislative adjustments, such as the banning of some slot machines and a rule stating that gambling in newspaper shops can only be done with an eID.
The slot machines in question are the so-called 3.3 machines, which despite using the familiar symbols (cards and dice) of traditional casino games, aren’t subject to any controls and are increasingly found in petrol stations, shopping centres and youth centres.
Under the stricter legislation being debated, these would be banned in their entirety.
Stricter checks on identity
Stricter identity checks would also be used to play the slot machines located in newsagents and at race tracks, requiring users to present their electronic identity card.
The plan is to close the “back door” these places present for minors and for gambling addicts who have been blacklisted from casinos.
Monetary limitations would also be implemented. Currently, it’s possible to bet up to €200 a day or €6,000 euros a month in newspaper shops. “That will become a thing of the past,” said Van Hecke, who proposed the legislation.
A ban on luring gamblers with incentives
There’s also a proposed ban on offering gifts and bonuses to would-be gamblers, which encourages people to register or continue gambling.
It would likewise be prohibited to combine different licences on one website, meaning that someone who is on a website for sports betting will not be able to click through to a website with casino games.
Criticism of global age limit
While many provisions received wide support, the proposal of a global age limit of 21 was met with some criticism, and was watered down to allow for exceptions that let people as young as 18 gamble.
“We have not been able to find an agreement on that within the government,” Van Hecke said about the age limit. “But that is not a step backwards, it is not a relaxation. The situation as it is today is simply frozen.”
In terms of restricting advertising and sponsorship from gambling companies - which justice minister Vincent van Quickenborne (Open VLD) promised to tackle before the end of 2022 - consensus has been harder to broker.
“The Green party’s bill proposes a general ban on gambling advertising and sponsorship. That is unacceptable to us,” said Philippe Pivin (MR).
Van Hecke said he remains hopeful that a compromise can be reached in the coming weeks and months.
“The discussion on the restriction of gambling advertising has yet to begin,” he said. “It is possible that there will be amendments. I cannot yet indicate where that discussion will lead within the majority.”