Belgian Sports Sector Sues Government For Gambling Ads Ban

The Belgian professional sports sector has sued the government for its planned ban on gambling ads. The Belgian regulator and media also oppose the ban. This was announced in a joint statement. Instead of the ban, they want the sports sector to take responsibility. The ban on gambling ads is scheduled for July 1, 2023. Representatives of different sports such as football and cycling, as well as organisers of sporting events in Belgium, are now asking for revised measures.

According to the sector, the ban will not be effective. The upcoming total ban will not protect players against gambling addiction, but will threaten the legal offer instead. It is expected that by banning advertising for legal online casinos, people will turn their attention to the illegal offer. At these online casinos they do not enjoy the same protection as at the regulated online casinos. The representatives of the sports sector therefore emphasise the social role that they themselves fulfil. Together they want to offer a powerful platform, with a particular focus on responsible gaming. The statement reports, among other things, that the sector is “proactively working on protection measures for players”.

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Belgian Media Also Against The Ban

In addition to the sports sector, Belgian media channels have also spoken out against the ban in a collective statement. They accuse Minister Vincent van Quickenborne of implementing the ban without any prior consultation. According to them, this should have been discussed first with the media, the sports sector and the Belgian Gaming Commission (KSC). They don’t think the ads should be tackled, and want the Belgian government to rather focus on the abundance of illegal providers. Instead it must become a priority to tackle these unauthorised companies correctly and impose restrictions on illegal providers. Belgian media says to be willing to invest in awareness campaigns.

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“Ban is Irreversible”

Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne says he is disappointed that opponents of the advertising ban have decided to take the government to court. Van Quickenborne says that the ban is irreversible, as it has already been signed:

The ban has already received approval by the Council of State and the European Commission. There is great political and social will to implement the ban. This is irreversible. As in countries such as Spain and Italy, countries with two of the strongest football leagues in Europe, we will ban gambling advertising from the sports sector.

Vincent Van Quickenborne, Minister of Justice

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Financial Impact on the Sports Industry

If legal gambling sites are no longer allowed to advertise, the Belgian sports sector will lose a lot of income and competitiveness, according to industry experts. According to them, not only sports teams will be hit by the ban, but fans will also feel the. Local media De Standaard reports that approximately 12% of the total income of the football clubs consists of income collected from contracts with games of chance providers.

Like the sports federations, the Belgian media wants to focus on the promotion of responsible play instead of excluding regulated operators. They propose creating a solid framework in which consumers stick to playing on legal websites, without the consumer running the risk of a gambling addiction. As a counter proposal, the Belgian media industry now comes up with the plan to develop a self-regulating framework, containing rules local media need to follow. These rules should be followed under the supervision of the governing body KSC.

Belgian media are in favour of limiting gambling commercials in terms of volume, content, and duration. They believe it is still possible for legal gambling providers to promote their brands and make players stick to responsible play, avoiding that players join illegal websites. As part of this policy, every gambling ad will need to be provided with a warning about the risks of gambling. Belgian media is prepared to invest a ‘large volume in media value’ in campaigns that are focused on awareness. If necessary, they call in the help of the Ksc for these campaigns.

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Gambling Ads Ban Already Set in Motion

The ban on gambling advertisements in Belgium will take effect on July 1, 2023. From that date, almost all forms of gambling advertisements will be banned. Initially, sports sponsorship is still somewhat an exception to the ban, with various restrictions. Sports sponsorship in the form of gambling advertising is still permitted until 1 January 2025. Shirt sponsorship by gambling operators will be allowed until December 31, 2027. Under the new rules, it is still allowed to advertise on social media and on the internet search engines to avoid brand awareness of legal websites getting affected too severely.

The decision of the sports sector to collectively pursue the matter in court has led to disapproval from gambling addiction expert Katleen Peleman, Het Nieuwsblad reports. The employee of the Flemish expertise centre for addictions (VAD) refers to the arguments of the Belgian sports teams and associations as “nonsense”. She claims that their arguments are completely money-driven:

They claim to think of the wellbeing of consumers, because it is actually the opposite happening here. Advertising increases gambling, this has been proven in studies. The counter proposals are therefore embarrassing to say the least. They only care about their income, not the people. Their arguments are invalid.

Katleen Peleman, addiction expert VAD

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