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Belgium Pursues Blanket Gambling Ad Ban Despite Research FindingsAlthough studies confirm gamblers need visible guides to play at licensed casinos, Belgian lawmakers propose blanket bans. The government argues it will decrease gambling addiction, while the national lottery may continue marketing.
In response to a rise in gambling harm rates, the Belgian government motioned to outlaw gambling advertisements. Belgium’s Minister of Federal Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, introduced the bill in a draft Royal Decree, which may come into effect by the end of the year.
The country’s operator trade association, Bago, and a handful of Ministers condemned the news of the advertising ban. If passed, the bill will put a stop to gambling ads in all forms of media, including sports team sponsorships.
Bago and the opposing ministers question the government’s intentions as the ban excludes marketing for the national lottery. Research findings from other regions confirmed the necessity of gambling ads for positive channelisation.
No More Gambling Ads
Minister van Quickenborne presented the radical proposal which prohibits gambling ads from appearing on billboards and all other forms of printed media.
The new laws prohibit private gambling companies from advertising on social media and websites other than their own. Television and radio ads will be something of the past as well. In his press release, the Minister said:
“Gambling advertising is fired at us from all sides every day.”
Although the national lottery may continue marketing practices, sports team sponsorships must expire by the end of 2024. Once the law comes into effect, any sports-related gambling ads may only include a brand name or logo. The current ban on stadium advertisements during events remains in place.
The draft royal decree already has support from six ministers in government, and the final steps for approval include a sign-off from the European Commission and the Council of State.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Belgium’s gambling industry has experienced explosive growth since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. According to studies conducted by the Flemish expertise centre of Alcohol and Other Drugs, so has gambling addiction.
About 100,000 Belgian citizens have gambling-related issues, and reportedly, a third of these suffer from severe compulsive gambling.
Minister van Quickenborne compared the gambling industry to smoking and condemned the fact that companies turn a profit from something that inflicts harm. Studies estimate that 40% of gambling revenues in Belgium originate from players with gambling addiction. The government hopes to curb this by limiting exposure to gambling ads.
However, lawmakers did not include the national lottery under the blanket ban, accounting for an estimated 40% of all gambling ads in the region.
At Odds with Statistics
Bago cited studies which found that restricted advertising leads to an increase in black market gambling. The association also referenced a UGent survey that concluded one in three gambling ads on social media was from unlicensed operators. Bago argues that the blanket ban on gambling ads from private companies will have the opposite effect.
Concerned about the lack of limitations around lottery advertisements, Bago said:
“Studies show, however, that no game of chance is without risk and that, for example, scratch games carry a risk similar to that of sports betting.”
As the voice for operators in the region, Bago expected the government to consult with them and licensed operators before introducing drastic terms. Bago proposed a different plan of action to include a hands-on approach from operators.
Belgium’s sports industry, specifically football, stands to lose millions of Euros, according to George-Lois Bouchez, chair of the Reformist Movement opposition party. The RM chair said the bill points to an austere government which he does not want to be a part of.
Stuck at a Crossroad
Studies found that gamblers lose their way in the maze of online gambling platforms without sufficient airtime offered to licensed operators. As Bago pointed out, it makes it increasingly difficult to recognise legal platforms.
Belgium’s lawmakers find themselves at a fork in the road, and the wise choice is to learn from others’ mistakes.
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