Ladbrokes and PMU deal criticised by Belgian competition watchdog

‘‘You don’t build sustainability on addiction” – Belgium operators update protections policy

Belgium’s six regulated gambling operators have signed a duty of care agreement, ushering in a new prevention policy for the national industry based on four pillars.

The six members of the Belgian Association of Gaming Operators (BAGO) – Ardent Group, BetFirst, Golden Palace, Star Casino, Kindred and Napoleon – signed the agreement earlier this week.

Now that the new policy has been adopted, BAGO members have committed to sharing it with the Belgium Gambling Commission (BGC), which marks one of the four pillars of the new approach.

Other areas of focus are education and training of staff on identifying and taking action on problem gambling, and adoption of a problem gambling behaviour detection system based on algorithms, AI and ‘scientifically based criteria’.

This criteria is chiefly based around markers of harm, including playing frequency, playing time, intensity and deposits. Lastly, the six operators have also pledged to make protection recommendations to players such as voluntary deposit limits, offering reality checks, self-exclusion, and general exclusion via regulators.

“Our focus is on creating an environment in which players can participate in gambling in a responsible and safe manner,” said Tom De Clercq, Chairman of BAGO. 

“Such a duty of care is a useful addition to other existing protective measures, such as the EPIS check and the deposit limit with associated checks on default.”

The trade body noted that online gambling has become the dominant form of betting in Belgium, as in other countries, with estimates putting the number of Belgian bettors wagering online at 70%.

This in turn has fueled concerns around the prevalence of problem gambling, with Damien Thiéry, Secretary General of BAGO, citing statistics from Belgian public health institute Sciensano that put 0.9% of the population as being ‘susceptible to a gambling addiction’.

Thiéry added that problem gambling is ‘often accompanied by emotional, relational and financial problems’. He continued: “We want to avoid that at all costs, because legal gaming operators want to offer a safe form of entertainment. You simply don’t build sustainable economic activity on the back of addictions.”

BAGO’s motivation to address potential problem gambling as a result of an increased digitalisation of betting mirrors developments in other countries. 

Notably, the UK government – and the country’s own trade by, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) – have sought to modernise gambling regulation and player protection through a review of the country’s Gambling Act and industry self-imposed measures.

However, this is also something the Belgium government has been seeking to address through legislative action. On 1 July 2023, the country introduced a wide-ranging ban on betting marketing, as did the neighbouring Netherlands.

In this context, Emmanuel Mewissen, Vice-Chairman of BAGO, asserted that ‘it is not enough to create a safe legal gambling environment, but it must be visible to the players – something that has become more difficult due to the advertising restrictions.

He concluded: “The players must also be able to find their way to it. And that is becoming increasingly difficult, as legal operators have been banned from advertising. Today, one in five Belgians already plays in the illegal circuit. Tomorrow it might be two out of five.”

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