Netherlands and Belgium flags

Netherlands and Belgium advertising bans now in effect

Long-awaited legal changes came into force in the Netherlands and Belgium over the weekend, with both countries implementing wide ranging betting advertising restrictions on 1 July.

SBC News Netherlands and Belgium advertising bans now in effect
Franc Weerwind

Advertising reform in the Low Countries has been in development for over a year. Plans by Belgium’s Justice Minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, for a blanket ban on gambling advertising were first unveiled in May 2022.

The Netherlands followed suit in July when regulatory reforms for a ban on ‘untargeted’ advertising were revealed, with backing from Minister for Legal Protections, Franc Weerwind.

Although still far reaching, the Dutch betting ban is more lenient than its Belgian counterpart. In a reminder to the industry on 1 July, the Dutch Gambling Authority, the Kansspelautoriteit (KSA), outlined the scope of the changes.

Essentially, operators will be unable to advertise on TV, radio and in newspapers and magazines, whilst advertising in ‘public spaces’ – such as billboards and bus shelters – and in buildings accessible to the public, is also prohibited.

The latter provision includes advertising in gaming casinos, slot machine arcades, cinemas and cafes. However, marketing in ‘the online gaming environment’ can continue, as well as general online, direct mailing, on-demand TV and social media advertising, albeit under ‘strict conditions’.

The KSA reiterated to operators that the purpose of the ban is to protect vulnerable groups, including young adults, against gambling addiction. Recruitment also extends to recruitment activity, which ‘should not reach’ minors, young adults or vulnerable groups, a policy which the KSA has been visible in enforcing, such as against Holland Casino.

With the ban now in force, the KSA states that it is ‘actively monitoring’ how the new rules and obligations will be applied in practice. 

The Authority’s statement read: “Should this lead to further interpretation or clarification of the rules, the sector will be informed in good time. 

“The KSA warns permit holders not to push the boundaries. If the KSA encounters obvious violations, it will immediately take enforcement action.”

As in the case of Holland Casino and other operators, the KSA has been active in enforcing official licensing requirements via the use of fines. For example, the KSA fined bet365’s Hillside New Media Malta €400,000 for directing advertising and bonuses to young adults.

However, when enforcing the newly imposed advertising ban, the KSA may not employ fines, at least not immediately. Responding to House of Representatives questions last week, Weerwind emphasised the use of ‘invisible measures’.

He explained to parliamentarians: “In order to achieve this, invisible measures, such as norm-setting talks, are often more effective than imposing a fine. Which of course does not alter the fact that violations can be punished in the form of a fine.

“It is up to the KSA to decide what the most appropriate intervention is, whereby obvious violations are of course dealt with more strictly.”

Meanwhile, the ban in the Netherlands’ southern neighbour Belgium will be much more far reaching, effectively ending all forms of betting and gaming advertising, including sports sponsorships.

The final obstacle to the ban’s implementation was passed by the government last week when a Brussels court ruled against the concerns of betting and sporting stakeholders.

Some in sports have been critical of the proposed ban since Justice Minister Van Quickenborne first introduced the Royal Decree in May 2022. The bulk of Belgian Pro League teams have sponsorship deals with betting firms, and there are concerns about loss of revenue.

Van Quickenborne has been undeterred by such concerns, however, arguing that the ‘normalisation and banalisation of gambling’ via advertising must end.

Although initially more limited, the Netherlands may catch up with Belgium over the coming years, with Weerwind’s 2022 proposals including a planned phase out of sports sponsorships by 2025.

Developments in both countries come as part of a wider wave of regulatory change throughout Europe, which has seen reforms adopted in Germany, the UK, Ireland and France, among others, since 2021.

SBC News Netherlands and Belgium advertising bans now in effect

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