Belgium betting advertising hangs in the balance as Justice Minister pushes for ban

The Belgian betting industry’s links with sports have come under the spotlight, as the country’s Minister for Justice proposes an advertising ban, according to local news outlet De Tijd.

Vincent Van Quickenborn, Justice Minister, has proposed a Royal Decree which would ban most forms of advertising by the end of the year and all marketing in sports by the end of 2024. 

This would include a ban on free demonstration games, advertising in printed media, posters in public places, personalised advertising by post or ‘digital means’, and marketing across TV, radio, cinemas, websites, digital channels, social media platforms, magazines and newspapers. 

‘Gambling – all the numbers point to an explosion with all the consequences for addiction – is the new smoking,” Van Quickenborne stated, pointing to changes in other European countries as partly inspiring the ban, although the notion has been debated in Belgium for some time.

“Belgium is following the international trend. Italy and Spain have implemented a complete advertising ban and the Netherlands and the UK are working on similar rules.”

The only exception to the ban would be within ‘the world of the gambling companies themselves’, according to De Tijd – meaning logos displayed in venues such as gaming halls and casinos. 

Van Quickerborn’s proposal has not gone uncriticized, however, with Senator Georges-Louis Bouchez, leader of the liberal Reformist Movement (MR) political party, arguing that such a ban could negatively impact the finances of football clubs. 

Meanwhile, Pro League CEO Lorin Parys has confirmed that he is seeking a consultation with the federal government, having also raised concerns that the Justice Minister’s suggestion would cut sponsorship income by 12%. 

This comes at a time when Belgian football is still recovering from the economic impacts of COVID, De Tijd stated that the league’s clubs have lost a total of €100 million – mirroring developments across the North Sea in the UK, where the English Football League (EFL) and other stakeholders have repeatedly pointed to the potential negative impact a proposed sponsorship ban could have clubs. 

Senator Bouchez has also called for a consultation with the government on the issue, adding that the ban would not apply to the Belgian National Lottery, only to private companies – the Lottery generates €7 million for the national professional cycling team annually.

Dennis Mariën, General Manager of Kindred Belgium, told De Tijd: “The finding that 40% of the media expenditure by the sector is attributable to the Lottery does raise questions about the government’s claim about strict rules for the Lottery in the interest of player protection.

“We are a strong supporter of stricter rules and a duty of care to combat problematic gambling. But it is a pity that none of the ministers came to talk to us. Moreover, they ignore the advice of their own watchdog – the Gaming Commission, which does not advocate this.”

Lastly, the issue of black market operators has also been raised – again mirroring a trend in the UK – with the paper estimating that up to 20% of bets are placed via illegal players, whist an unnamed club informed the outlet that working with trusted betting firms assisted with preventing players away from ‘dodgy sites’. 

Van Quickenborne is not backing down, however, and apparently would have the ability to block the MR’s protests in the Council of Ministers, as the Minister of Justice holds the authority to propose Royal Decrees without having to pass through the body. 

“The gambling industry is making more and more profit in our country, and that from people with a gambling addiction,” the Minister asserted.

“’Gaming advertising is fired at us every day and encourages these addictions, including among young people. More than 100,000 gamblers are prone to gambling addiction and a third of them are seriously addicted.”

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