Belgian Trade Association BAGO Pushes Back Against Proposed Ad Clampdown

In response to news last week that Belgium’s Minister of Justice, Koen Geens, had proposed a crackdown on gambling advertising in Belgium, the six-member Belgian Association of Gaming Operators (BAGO) has fired back at the proposed measure.

According to a BAGO statement, “Tthe Belgian Association of Private Gambling Operators (BAGO) warns that too strict rules for publicity will only benefit the illegal websites. Gambling publicity is an essential means of making the players acquainted with an ethical, acknowledged and responsible game offering that is a dam to the illegal online gaming game that offers no guarantees in terms of consumer protection.”

The group added, “BAGO also wishes to emphasize that advertising is essential to keeping consumers [away from] illegal offers that the rules on consumer protection do not respect.”

This all sounds noble; however, there’s a little bit more to this than meets the eye. First, the consumer-protection backstory: the new initiatives proposed by Geens and endorsed by Belgium’s Gaming Commission are roughly in line with the types of advertising restrictions found in other European countries. According to recent reports, the proposals include:

  • A complete ban on televised gambling advertisements during the broadcast of live sporting events;
  • A complete ban of televised gambling advertisements during daytime and early evening hours, until 8 pm;
  • A ban on ads for gambling services that appear to promote excessive or habitual gambling behaviors, though what falls under such definitions will wait until the proposed regulations are farther along in the development phase;
  • The mandated inclusion of problem-gambling warnings and call-to-action information designed to mitigate addictive gambling behavior;
  • Fines and penalties for operators who violate both the new and other already-existing gambling restrictions.

BAGO’s argument appears to be that if these restrictions are brought into effect, then all hell will break loose, and they’ll lose a good chunk of their business to a bevy of unlicensed operators who are just waiting to pounce on Belgium’s innocent gamblers. The argument appears to be mostly false, including a suspect fact or figure or two along the way.

BAGO’s member companies, by the way, include Ardent Group (777.be.casino, 777.be.sport, and circus.be), Ladbrokes.be, Golden Palace Casino, Unibet, Napoleon Games, and BetFirst.be.

According to BAGO, these six companies “represent about 70% of the Belgian online and offline private gambling market, consisting of casinos, slot machines, games for liquor stores, betting offices and their associated websites.”

Here’s perhaps the most suspect part of BAGO’s claims:

Without advertising, in 5 years time, the number of players surfing to illegal gaming sites can rise to 50%. Therefore, the private gambling sector is of the opinion that a ban on broadcasting a reasonable number of commercials during the broadcast of sports matches would just go against the intended purpose of better protecting consumers. Today, the number of players surfing to illegal gambling sites is estimated at 15%. If the legal operators were unable to promote their online offerings, this percentage could increase to 50% in 5 years! These projections were confirmed by H2 Gambling Capital, a worldwide recognized company specialized in gambling statistics. In other words, what the consumer thinks to protect by prohibiting legal gambling games, pushes the same consumer into the arms of the illegal providers who are not controlled and do not provide protection against irresponsible gaming behavior.

Half of all Belgian gambling traffic is going to move to unlicensed sites in five years if TV advertising is restricted? That’s highly, highly unlikely. Belgium, one might remember, very publicly fined 79 former Betclic customers for playing on that unlicensed site a couple of years ago, and in the process got Betclic to stop accepting traffic from Belgium.

There’s not only that; there’s also the gambling blacklist that Belgium maintains, adding a dozen or sites to the naughty roster every year. Sorted here by when they were added, Belgium’s blacklist includes these 133 sites:

2012: www.myglobalgames.com, www.bingo-round.com, www.titanpoker.com, www.jackpotcity.com, www.casino.com, www.chilipoker.com, www.casinoriva.com, www.megacasino.com, www.winamax.fr, www.pokerhuis.com, www.flanderspoker.com, www.prodigypoker.com, www.europacasino.com, www.riverbingo.com, www.platinumplaycasino.com, www.goldenpalace.com, www.amsterdamscasino.com, www.williamhill.com, www.stanjames.com, www.betfair.com, www.188bet.com, www.maaslandgames.be, www.sjbet.at, www.bet365.com, www.7red.com, www.betfred.com, www.32redbingo.com, www.winpalace.com, www.bidyes.com, www.gimigames.com, www2.williamhill.com, www.rivapoker.com, www.stargames.com, www.gamebookers.com, www.gamingclub.com, www.supremeplay.com, www.spinpalace.com, www.agrandtopeudice.com, www.leaderbet.com, www.comeon.com, www.21grandcasino.com, www.winner.com, www.spigo.be, www.spelpunt.nl, www.jetbull.com, www.eurogrand.com, www.casinotropez.com

2013: www.betwingo.com, www.scratchmania.com, www.wataro.com, jeuxcash.rtl.be, www.redbet.com, www.pkr.com, www.pkrcasino.com, www.goldencherry.com, www.klavercasino.com, www.betvictor.com, www.casinograndluxe.com, www.cityclubcasino.com, www.monacasino.com, www.royaalcasino.com, www.1bet2bet.com, www.casino-belgie.com, www.intercasino.com, www.bigbangcasino.com, www.stargames.net, www.eurocazino.com, www.5dimes.eu, www.onextwo.com, www.casinomidas.com, www.swoggi.be, www.swoggi.com,

2014: www.interwetten.com, www.racebets.com, www1.racebets.com, www.gratorama.com, www.allsport365.com, www.skill7.com, www.gametwist.be, www.gametwist.com, www.scratch-mania.com, nl.scratch-mania.com, fr.scratch-mania.com, de.scratch-mania.com

2015: www.fruitycasa.com, mybookie.ag, www.silveroakcasino.com, www.deuceclub.com, www.poldercasino.com, www.hugeslots.com, www.intertops.eu, www.casinoheroes.eu, www.roulettexpress.com, www.aladdinsgoldcasino.com, www.cresuscasino.com

2016: www.osiriscasino.com, www.majesticslotsclub.com, www.casinoblu.com, www.betpokerexchange.com, www.laromere.com, www.viproomcasino.com, www.euromooncasino.com, www.buabook.com, www.parklaneecasino.com, www.goldruncasino.com

2017: secure.gratorama.com, www.casinoluck.com, www.winorama.com, omnislots.com, www.oceanbets.com, www.casinobordeaux.com, www.companycasino.com, www.madamechance.com, www.happyhugo.com, www.slots500.com, www.casinoextrafr.com, www.casinotriomphe.com, www.pariscasino.com, www.chericasino.com, www.tropeziapalace.com, www.stakes.com, www.casinoadrenaline.com, www.luckycasino.com, codeta.com, 1xbet.com, old.meridianbet.rs, www.casinosuperlines.com, www.casinovo.com, www.fenixcasino.com, www.crazycasinoclub.com, www.casinoventura.com, www.sincitycasino.com

(It’s worth noting that BAGO member Golden Palace Casino (goldenpalace.com) has been on the blacklist since 2012, though that could be something as simple as a clerical error.)

If one looks at that blacklist, one can easily see that it’s comprised of two types of sites: Big mainstream gambling brands that aren’t doing business or advertising in Belgium anyway, and smaller fringe sites that aren’t going to draw a ton of Belgian punters no matter what they do.
Add it altogether, and there’s no way the BAGO claim that up to 50% of Belgian gambling traffic will flow to unlicensed sites if new ad restrictions are put in place holds even a droplet of water.

It doesn’t matter that the BAGO quote cites prominent gambling-research firm H2 Gambling Capital. It says H2GC is confirming BAGO’s own projections, but that can be read as simply, “Yes, we confirm that BAGO made these projections.” There are no hard figures offered to support the projections, and H2GC is more likely than not to be retained by one or more of the BAGO member sites. That dog doesn’t hunt.

So, what to believe? It appears that Belgium will enact the proposed restrictions in the near future, and the BAGO member firms are playing the jilted stepchild routine, perhaps for nothing more than for trying to curry some measure of public sympathy.

As aggrieved parties and situations go, it doesn’t add up to much. It’s really in online gambling’s greater good to have such restrictions and a platform of perceived government supervision in place anyway.