On 1 July 2023, the Royal Decree of 27 February 2023 determining the conditions for advertising games of chance entered into force (“Royal Decree”).
WHAT IS IT?
Until now, only advertising by C licence holders (operators of gaming machines in a bar) and F2 licence holders (bookshops) was regulated (respectively by the Royal Decree of 22 December 2000 on the operation and administration of class III gambling establishments, the applications of procedures and the form of the class C licence and the Royal Decree of 22 December 2010 determining the conditions for taking bets outside class IV gambling establishments, as amended by the Royal Decree of 17 February 2022).
However, this changed with the entry into force of the Royal Decree, which regulates now advertising by:
- A license holders (casino operators) and A+ license holders (casino operators offering online casino games);
- B license holders (automatic gaming room operators) and B+ license holders (casino operators offering online casino games offering online equivalents);
- E license holders (manufacturers, installers and repairers of gaming machines);
- F1 license holders (betting operators) and F1+ licence holders (online betting operators);
- F1P license holders (organizer of betting on horse races);
- F2 license (betting agencies, bookmakers, racing associations, bookshops).
The National Lottery (“Loterie Nationale/Nationale Loterij”) is also subject to this Royal Decree for the advertisement of the games of chance it offers as a holder of an F1 licence.
WHAT ARE THE NEW RULES?
1. General principles
Fundamentally, these license holders may:
- not advertise to « socially vulnerable » groups (i.e., minors, gambling addicts);
- only advertise authorised games;
- only advertise with an indication of the minimum age limits for gambling and a prevention message;
- not send personal communication (e.g., mailing) to entice players to play;
- not use well-known individuals or fictitious characters for marketing purposes (including influencers).
2. Only specific forms of ads allowed
Under certain specific conditions, these license holders may advertise in the following forms of advertisement:
- B2B advertising, i.e., advertisements for business-to-business communication;
- incidental advertising in the context of reporting on sporting competitions and events;
- sports sponsorship;
- use of trademarks and logos in commercial establishments whose principal activity is the operation of gambling;
- product placement advertising on television or radio programmes or other audiovisual media recorded abroad, unless they are specifically intended for the Belgian market;
- use of brand or logo, or both, through online advertising programs on search engine result pages related to gambling terms, where the advertising is placed at the top of the page and considered a paid search result;
- advertisements on their own website;
- advertisements on online content-sharing platforms.
In addition to the above, A, B, F1 and F2 licence holders may advertise themselves within their gaming establishment and only for the gaming products they offer within the said establishment.
3. End of sports sponsorship
Advertising on the sports gear of underaged players is now prohibited.
Starting from 1 January 2025, advertising and sponsorship messages for sports competitions in the Belgian markets will be prohibited (e.g., advertisements on playing fields and during Belgian sporting competitions).
Starting from 1 January 2028, the licence holders subject to the Royal Decree will no longer be allowed to sponsor professional sports associations (e.g., prohibition of advertisement placed on the front of sports gear).
4. Lack of specific guidance for the supervisor
The Royal Decree does not provide any guidance as to how the Gambling Commission will control the compliance of the above mentioned entities with the rules set out under the Royal Decree. It remains thus to see how this supervision will be organised in practice.
WHAT ARE THE REACTIONS?
Since its publication in March 2023 (and even before that), the Royal Decree has caused quite a stir, especially in the Belgian gambling world and the sports world which is very dependent on sponsorship contracts with gambling companies.
Various actors (e.g., Pro League, gaming groups) argue that a total ban on sports betting advertising will not protect the socially vulnerable from gambling addiction, but will steer them towards the insecure offerings of unauthorised operators. Wishing to fight the Royal Decree, many have already brought an action for annulment against the State Council.
In conclusion, the future of the Royal Decree now hangs in the balance, awaiting the decisive actions of the Council of State.
You can download a PDF version of this news release here.
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This article is not a legal advice or opinion. You should seek advice from a legal counsel of your choice before acting upon any of the information in this article.