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Will it get harder to advertise gambling in Belgium?

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Here’s a sure bet: Belgium is a country that loves to gamble. The country’s embrace of games of chance goes back six hundred years or more, to their 15th-century national lottery, and really flourished in the years after World War II. From horse-racing hippodromes to sports betting, from the modern national lottery of 1934 to the hottest online betting trends, Belgians love to gamble.

But according to new Belgian laws established in 2010, foreign-based online betting and gaming sites, including poker rooms, casinos, and sports books based outside Belgium are prohibited. Only companies who already have bet shops may offer local online betting services there. Workers for violating gambling services risk being arrested. If you want to offer online betting in Belgium, you have to obtain a land-based license and use a server based on Belgian soil.

But there are no penalties for Belgian citizens who bet through international online bookmakers which are hosted in other countries. As a result, an estimated 500 sports betting sites based outside of Belgium still cater to Belgian’s gambling desires.

The GDPR and Belgium

Another factor at play is the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the first new overhaul of the regulations in twenty years. The regulations follow the same course as the Data Protection Act of 1998, plus adds hefty fines for failure to adhere or for information breaches. The act extends the regulations, which include various other stipulations, equilaterally across the Union. The regulations also apply to non-EU countries which handle information about EU citizens or businesses.

The GDPR is intended to make online gambling safer and more cost-effective for the player and for the gaming company alike. These safer conditions are likely to make online gambling more popular. Certainly, it’s also a clear sign that online gambling has a solid future all over Europe, especially in countries like Belgium.

The Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) reported in its 2016 annual report that the previous year had seen Belgian-licensed gambling revenue reach a total of €622m. That figure was 17 percent higher than that of 2014, the year before that. Online revenue represented a whopping 35 percent of that figure, approximately €211.3m. Statistics indicate that the 3 percent of Belgians who participated in online gambling in 2009 rose to 7 percent in 2015, more than doubling the figure in just six years. And it’s not just Belgium. Statistics couldn’t be clearer: $20.51 billion (U.S. dollars) in 2009 (worldwide) became $37.91B in 2015 and was estimated to reach a staggering $59.79B by the year 2020.

And as an industry flourishes, so too does its advertising. A 2013 report demonstrated that gambling advertisement spots shown on television increased from 152,000 in 2006 to 537,000 in 2008 and 1.39 million in 2012.

But all this momentum behind gaming popularity and advertising was bound to incur some blowback, and it has come in the form of Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC), which now curbs certain television advertising of gambling products or companies. Time blocks (before 8 pm or during live sports broadcasts) and ad forms (screen banner ads or traditional commercials) are targeted for the restriction to prevent gambling abuse among the Belgian population.

Not everybody is in favor of the restrictions, naturally, and that isn’t limited to ad-happy gaming companies. Detractors note that the restrictions were drafted by Belgium’s national lottery, which may have a conflict of interest as it competes for the same gambling dollar as online and other gambling outlets. Objections are falling on deaf ears, however. And there is at least one significant drawback to limiting the access to advertising is that authorized Belgian gambling sites, members of the Belgian Association of Gaming Operators (BAGO). While it’s easy for the average Belgian to find a good licensed online casino in Belgium, BAGO estimates that 15 percent of Belgian gamblers are using internationally licensed sites, but that number could increase to roughly 50 percent if licensed Belgian operators are prevented from advertising with greater effectiveness.

And with these restrictions and others currently “en vogue” in the European Union, more restrictions are always possible. That means advertisers and gaming companies which qualify for licenses now may circumvent later, even more, stringent restrictions. So time is of the essence for companies interested in the Belgium gaming market.

Despite certain new restrictions, the figures speak for themselves. Belgians love to gamble, and increasingly, they love to gamble online. While there may be some new advertising restrictions, they pale in comparison to the booming profits to be had from a successful run in the Belgian online gambling industry. For international gaming companies that can conform to the new rules, regulations, and licensing demands, online gaming, and related advertising are definitely a safe bet.

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