Bwin wins in Belgium
By Jana Sedlakova
The questioning of Bwin.party Co-CEO Norbert Teufelberger by Belgian police was unexpected and dramatic. As regards the detention, Norbert Teufelberger and Jim Ryan, Bwin.party Co-CEOs, in their press release [14 November] said: “We have been at the forefront of regulatory change in Europe for several years and we have licences in Gibraltar, Alderney, Denmark, France, Germany (Schleswig-Holstein), Italy and Spain. We continue to strive for a regulatory framework in European Member States that is compliant with EU law.” Perhaps, a connection could be made to Teufelberger’s argument earlier in November that its German poker and casino offering is legitimate. He claimed his company has the “legal right” to continue to offer poker and casino in Germany despite authorities stating that any successful internet sports betting State Treaty licensee would have to immediately shut down its gaming services.
Further regulatory changes are due in Belgium. Koen Platteau, Partner at Olswang, said in his blog “In the next few months, the BGC [Belgium Gaming Commission] and the government should finalise a set of rules that specifically apply to online gambling activities. These rules have been defined on the basis of the experience gained from the first online licences and include, for instance, a series of detailed technical and IT specifications. An ethical code is equally in the pipeline. The expectation is that these rules will be adopted over the coming months.”
According to Poker News Daily [20 November], “In response to last Tuesday’s detainment of Bwin.party co-CEO Norbert Teufelberger in Brussels, Belgium, 14 executives from 12 internet gambling companies penned a public letter to the Financial Times saying that enough is enough when it comes to European Union (EU) countries ignoring EU law.”
In Belgium operators of casino games and bookmakers can be given a licence for online operation.
As Koen Plattea has stated, at the beginning of October there were “four online casino licences (A+ licences), twenty-two online gaming arcade licences (B+ licences) and four online betting licences (F1+ licences). For each of these three categories, quantitative limits apply to land-based licences (a maximum of 9 casinos, 180 gaming arcades and 34 betting organisers is permitted). As a result of the link between land-based and online licences, the same quantitative limits apply to the online world. However, the expectation is that the number of online licences will remain substantially lower than the number of licences for land-based operations. For instance, BGC officials have indicated that they do not expect more than 10 online betting licences.”
The events in Belgium are a reminder of the open infringement cases of EU law that shall be dealt with as committed to by the European Commission’s Action Plan. Concerning the promise in the EC Action Plan to address the infringement cases, Clive Hawkswood, Chief Executive of the Remote Gaming Association, acknowledged that it would be meaningless to commit to the actions unless the EC would act swiftly to protect EU law.
He added in a press release [14 November]:
“Only yesterday we saw the Co-CEOs of Bwin.party, a company listed on the London Stock Exchange and holding multiple licences in Europe, being challenged and intimidated by the Belgian Gambling Commission whilst in Brussels to lobby for fair treatment within the EU. The irony of that cannot be lost on anyone.”
Addressing the Bwin.party Co-CEO’s detention in Belgium, Clive Hawkswood added “It is just one of many examples of the sort of injustice that is being faced by our industry because the [European] Commission has yet to enforce properly the rules that it is there primarily to protect. We do not underestimate the political hurdles that they face, but that should not distract them from their duty as guardian of Treaty. If they don’t take urgent and effective action soon, then it will be difficult not to view their current activity as merely a paper shuffling exercise.”
In the Bwin.party press release [14 November] it says ” Yesterday’s interview lasted for two hours, after which Mr Teufelberger, who had been chairing an industry conference about responsible gaming and regulation, left Belgium as originally planned. Bwin.party intends to continue its on-going dialogue with the BGC [Belgium Gambling Commission].”
On the 5th December the Financial Times reported that Jim Ryan walked has stepped down as the company’s Co-CEO. Later on, on the 14th December, Bwin.party announced a partnership in Belgium with Belcasinos SA (‘Belcasinos’), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Groupe Partouche SA (‘Partouche’) and its legitimate presence in the market has been thus confirmed. The Belgium Gambling Commission has approved this relationship and announced that it has initiated removing Bwin.party’s group’s sites from its infamous black list.
In Bwin.party’s press release [14 Dec] Jim Ryan and Norbert Teufelberger said:
“We are excited to have reached an agreement with Partouche to offer our market-leading products under license to consumers in Belgium. Following recent developments in Belgium and after further dialogue with the local regulator, we have put our differences of opinion behind us and are now focused on the immediate commercial opportunity.
“Together with our new partner we are now in the process of securing the necessary approvals to meet the requirements set by the BGC and do not expect any interruption to our service for customers in Belgium.”
Jacques Frojman, CEO of Belcasinos and Partouche Belgium, said: “Bwin.party is a market leader in online gaming with strong brands in sports betting, poker and casino. We are thrilled to be working with such a quality partner in Belgium.”