BAGO – the Belgian Association for Gaming Operators – has warned the federal government that its channelling objective on gambling can only be achieved through sensible policy decisions.
The warning formed part of BAGO’s response to the Belgium Gaming Commission’s (KGC) ‘2020/2021 Market Report’ – which outlined the severe damages that the COVID-19 pandemic had on Belgium’s regulated gambling sector.
Headline figures saw Belgium gambling record a €200m shortfall in gross gaming revenues (GGR) as land-based gambling venues remained closed for “half of the year and their turnover fell by just under 50%”.
Calculating lockdown impacts, the KGC outlined that the total market (land-based and online) had accounted for a 17.8% decrease in GGR.
Though the KGC noted that “the pandemic accelerated consumers’ trends to become more active online”, BAGO stated that licensed operators saw little benefit as Belgium’s marketplace lacked comprehensive safeguards against unlicensed operators.
“The Gaming Commission notes that one player in five plays on illegal websites, which raises serious questions regarding the safety of these players,” BAGO stated.
Of significance, the trade association highlighted a survey by Ghent University revealing that one-in-three online gambling advertisements viewed by national consumers were advertised by an unlicensed operator.
A blanket ban on gambling advertising has been proposed by Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne to fix the issue – a measure that BAGO states will only strengthen the black market
BAGO outlined its desires to work with the government to find an optimal solution in which restrictions are effective and do not hinder the market’s overall channelling objective for licensed incumbents.
A further concern was raised regarding the Justice Committee’s recommendation that players be forced to “open a separate player account for each type of game of chance that they want to play with the same operator”.
The measure was deemed to be counterproductive for the Gaming Commission as a market regulator. Instead, BAGO recommended that the government ensure that licensed operators use technology and data aggregation to monitor at-risk players, combined with standard safer gambling tools used in other European markets.
Concluding the BAGO assessment, trade body chairman Tom De Clercq, noted that sensibility was needed to solve the issues in a market place where Sciensano Belgium’s Health Monitor states that “0.2 to 0.9% of the population is at risk of gambling addiction”
“A relatively low percentage, if you compare it, for example, with the prevalence of problematic alcohol use (5.9%), but of course every gambling addict is one too many”, De Clercq concluded.