Belgium proposes to ban advertisement of gambling and games of chance as "profits of the industry are made on the back of people suffering from an addiction," according to the minister of Justice.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne wants to "tackle gambling addiction" as planned in the agreement that formed the coalition government.
The cabinet minister drafted a proposal that would "severely limit advertisement of games of chance and prohibit most forms of gambling". Mr Van Quickenborne wants to restrict the promotion of gambling so that "only people who want to play and are actively looking for information on gambling would be exposed" to such services in the future.
For the minister, recurrent advertising is a main driver of the increasing popularity and the greater social acceptation of online gambling. Online betting is particularly popular among young people.
In 2019, gambling was a 2-billion-euro industry (US$ 2.1 billion) in Belgium, where 64% of people over 18 play for money at least once a year. People who voluntarily asked to be registered on the list of exclusion from the Commission on gambling, so that they avoid playing again, increased 70% compared to 2014.
According to the Center of Expertise on Alcohol and Other Drugs, 100,000 active players are subject to addiction disorders in a country of 11.5 million people. One third of them would have severe addictions to games of chance, and 40% of the business would come from people who have issues with playing. Moreover, compulsive gamblers on average spend 42% of their pays in games of chance.
"Profits of the industry are therefore made on the back of people suffering from an addiction," concludes the minister.
If signed, the royal decree would ban advertising on TV, radio, newspapers, Internet websites, social media platforms and in movie theaters. Out-of-home display would be forbidden. It would also prohibit other forms of push marketing strategies like mailing, emailing, SMS communication, and free demonstrations of games.
If brands would still be able to communicate on their own social media channels with non-interactive formats shorter than 5 seconds, fictional characters, celebrities and influencers will not be able to participate in the promotion of gambling.
The royal decree has been sent to the European Commission for review. After receiving feedback from the Council of State, the text will be adapted to take effect before the end of the year.
Moreover, sports marketing in the form of sponsoring will be banned from January 2025. The Belgian national lottery is the main sponsor of a professional cycling team, Lotto Soudal.
The announcement has been favorably received by other political parties from the coalition government, except for Georges-Louis Bouchez, president of the Reformist Movement who, is "absolutely opposed" to the proposal and wrote on Twitter: "This measure is excessive and will bring great financial difficulties in sports among other sectors. Do we want the death of football in this country?"
Mr Bouchez is also president of an amateur football club. "This puritanical vision makes no sense," he added about "a very wrong answer to a real challenge".
Lorin Parys, the CEO of the Pro League, the football top professional league in Belgium, fears that such a ban would cut by 12% sponsoring revenues of football clubs, "at a time when our clubs lose more than 100 million euros".
The Belgian association of gaming operators is "outraged by the drastic banning of advertising for legal gambling". It also argues consumers will not be able to differentiate legal and illegal offerings, "like in Italy where illegal gambling grew up to 50% between 2019 and 2021". The BAGO , representing 70% of the offline and online gambling in the country, would rather focus on identifying behaviors of addicted players and providing solutions to them.