The Kingdom of Belgium is a sovereign state, situated in Western Europe, with a population of 11.4 million and a gross domestic product of over 529 billion as of 2019. Being one of the nations that founded the European Union, Belgium offers high standards of living and has a well-developed economy, driven predominantly by the service and trade sectors.
As for gambling, it has a rich heritage in the country. Historians can trace its roots on Belgian soil as far back as the 14th century. Belgium also launched one of Europe’s earliest national lotteries whose beginnings can be traced back to the 15th century. This rich heritage is not reflected in the number of landbased gambling halls the country is home to.
Although gambling has a legal status in Belgium, the country has only nine brick-and-mortar casinos, with the largest one being the sea-front Knokke-Heist. Remote gambling is also legal and regulated in Belgium although few online casinos are licensed by the local regulator.
Licenses are not readily granted so Belgium gamblers have limited options for the time being. This causes some of them to take their action to gambling sites that offer their services on the Belgium market without having proper authorization.
Laws Governing Landbased Gambling in Belgium
The landbased gambling sector in Belgium is governed by the Act of May 7, 1999, on games of chance, betting, gaming establishments and the protection of players, known as Wet van 7 mei 1999 op de kansspelen, de weddenschappen, de kansspelinrichtingen en de bescherming van de spelers.
As becomes apparent by the name, this piece of legislation only covers betting activities and games whose outcomes are based on chance. Promotional contests where no chance element is involved, such as sweepstakes and games without financial gains, do not fall within the scope of the legislation.
The provisions of this bill explicitly state that it is illegal to provide chance games that offer monetary gains without having obtained a license by the Belgian Gaming Commission first, or Kansspelcommissie as it is called in the Dutch language (also spoken in some parts of Belgium). The same goes for knowingly promoting and participating in unauthorized gambling services. A limited number of landbased casinos can receive licenses by the Belgium regulator for the time being.
Another piece of legislation that applies to the gambling sector in Belgium is Book VI of the Code of Economic Law on Consumer Protection and Market Practices (officially Boek VI van het Wetboek Economisch Recht betreffende Consumentenbescherming en Marktpraktijken). Some of the provisions in this legislation outline certain consumer protection rules that gambling operators are expected to follow.
Lottery games in the country are subject to the monopoly of the Belgian National Lottery under the provisions of the Lotteries Law of December 31, 1851. Exceptions are only made for scratch cards that award cash prizes and tombolas. However, the latter must be exclusively organized for charity causes to fall under the exemption.
The sanctions for organizing illegal gaming activities are also outlined in Belgium’s Penal Code, or Strafwetboek. Several articles deal with this subject and more specifically Articles 301 through 304. According to article 302, those who are caught operating illegal lotteries will be punished with imprisonment of eight days to three months. The violators will also have to pay fines of €50 to €3,000.
Online Gambling Regulations in Belgium
The provision of online gambling services is legal in Belgium as long as the operators have obtained permits by Kansspelcommissie, which is the Belgian Gaming Commission. Remote gambling was prohibited in the country until it was eventually legalized in 2010 after the Act of May 7, 1999 was amended by the passage of the Law of January 10, 2010. The full amended text of the legislation can be found here.
Belgian authorities issue different types of permits to approved operators, depending on what gambling products they seek to offer. The local legislation makes a distinction between several license types. Each one is outlined in brief below.
2Type A Licenses
Type A licenses allow approved operators to provide class 1 casino gaming products. Provided that the operator is looking to offer wagering over the Internet, they would need an additional A+ license.
3Type B Permits
Type B permits cover amusement arcades. Again, a B+ permit is needed for the provision of online arcades.
4Type C Permits
Venues that serve alcoholic and other beverages, such as cafes, restaurants, and bars, need type C permits for the operation of up to two games such as bingo.
5Type F License
The provision of physical sports wagers calls for the issuance of a type F license. Similarly to the previous permits, betting operators will have to obtain an additional type F+ license before they can legally provide their services over the Internet.
Applying for a License
The license applications are reviewed by the Belgian Gaming Commission. The application form is sent to the interested parties by the regulator itself although type F licenses can be filled in electronically. Natural persons applying for licenses should be based in member states of the European Union.
Those who obtain types A and B permits must enter Belgium’s company register as commercial companies. According to Article 29 of the Belgian gambling legislation, the total number of type A permits for landbased casinos is restricted to no more than 9.
Furthermore, these gambling halls can operate only within certain Belgian municipalities, namely Knokke-Heist, Namen, Spa, Oostende, Middelkerke, Dinant, Chaudfontaine, Blankenberge, and the Brussels Capitol Region. The permits allow for the provision of gaming machines and table games. There are restrictions on the hourly losses, too, as customers should not lose more than €70 per hour.View more...
Taxes on Gambling Operators
Gambling taxes fall within the scope of Wetboek van de met de inkomstenbelastingen gelijkgestelde belastingen, which is the Belgian Code of taxes assimilated to the income tax. More specifically, operators are taxed under the provisions outlined in articles 43 through 93. All gambling-related taxation goes toward the federal coffers, the only exception being the region of Flanders which gets to keep the taxes collected on its territory.
Operators are taxed at a relatively mild rate of 15%, which applies to the overall amounts they collect from bets. One exception is the region of Wallonia, where the tax rates are lower at just 11%. Bets on pigeon races, along with the national lottery, are not taxed but only on condition the participants are the ones betting.
These percentages apply to landbased gambling. Remote gaming operators have to pay lower taxes of 11% of their gross gaming revenue, which is the difference between the overall amounts wagered and the paid out winnings. As for Belgian players, they are not taxed on gains generated at physical or remote casinos. Gambling debts are also not enforceable in the country.
Legal Gambling Age and Protection of Vulnerable Players
Licensed terrestrial and online gambling operators must ensure only persons of legal gambling age have access to their products and services. Belgium’s law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 to enter gambling venues or places where gaming arcades and slots are available. Individuals under the age of 18 are prohibited from placing wagers.
Another important condition where social responsibility is concerned requires the gambling areas in landbased casinos to be separated from other spaces, such as bars and restaurants. The activities on the gaming floor should not be visible to people outside.
Various protective measures are in place to prevent gambling addiction as well as to help those who are already addicted. Responsible gambling is embraced in the country, with operators being required to promote it in prominent places.
Relatives or problem gamblers themselves are entitled to the right to request denied access to gambling services, a practice otherwise known as self-exclusion. The country also has an official registry of excluded persons who are blacklisted from gambling participation. It is known as the Excluded Persons Information System, or EPIS, and contains over 360,000 individuals as of 2019.
Also important is to mention that certain groups of people are prohibited from gambling, even if they are not excluded for addiction. Such is the case with magistrates, bailiffs, policemen, and notaries. Those in trouble also have access to SOS GAMBLING, which is a free helpline for addicted players.
It is available around the clock, so if you do have a gambling problem and are from Belgium, all you have to do is dial 0800 35 777. Another option is to visit the official website Gok Hulp where you will find free assessment tests, an anonymous program for gambling addicts, and free guidance on how to quit or reduce your betting.
Rules on Advertising
Belgium’s authorities are very strict when it comes to the advertising of gambling products and services. Various restrictions are in place on gambling-related advertisements. One chief example is showing online gambling commercials on television, which is strictly prohibited in Belgium. This applies to both type A and type B products, namely casino games and arcades.
The measures were enforced after the Belgian regulator noticed betting ads and commercials were “omnipresent” during soccer games. According to the regulatory authority, data analysis has indicated this has led to an increase in wagering activities during the playoffs of soccer games. Apparently, many viewers were prompted to place bets upon seeing such commercials on television.
The regulator was worried viewers might assume sports and betting are closely linked, which, in turn, might lead to the normalization of gambling. These concerns resulted in the prohibition of gambling commercials during the broadcasts of sporting events.
Additionally, the Royal Decree of October 2018 that enforced the restriction states that the advertisements should not contain any drawings or marketing techniques that might hold appeal with children and minors, in general.
But advertising is not the only thing operators should refrain from. According to Article 5 of said Royal Decree, licensed operators should not advertise free games or bonuses except on their own domains. Players should not be encouraged by the ads to gamble with promises of refunds or other bonuses.
The maximum sum a Belgian customer can receive as a bonus is restricted to €275 for a single month, Article 11 of the Decree states. The restrictions came into force in the spring of 2020. Before that, the Belgian Council of State said these restrictions are practically irrelevant since offering bonuses to local gamblers is illegal in the first place. This caused gambling operators in the country to deactivate offers such as free spins, welcome bonuses, and free bets as of March 2020.
Gambling Regulators in Belgium
All terrestrial and virtual gambling activities in Belgium are strictly overseen and controlled by the local regulatory body, Kansspelcommissie, or the Belgium Gaming Commission. The latter is tasked with multiple responsibilities, including approving and issuing licenses to gambling operators. Of course, the regulatory body keeps a sharp eye on the operations of its licensees. In case of any violations, the regulator has the mandate to suspend or even revoke the violators’ permits.
As you probably know, Belgium is a multi-language nation, which is why the regulator’s official website is available in English, German, Dutch, and French. There you can learn about all the preventive measures the Commission has adopted to protect vulnerable players and minors from experiencing the harmful effects of gambling.
The regulator has launched a special campaign, called BLUFF!, for this purpose. This is a five-episode film that targets young audiences aged 14 to 18 to warn them about the dangers associated with persistent gambling.
Another mandate of the Belgium Gaming Commission is to keep watch for unregulated operators that target players from the local market without its authorization. The regulator never relaxes its vigilance against such companies, constantly expanding its blacklist of banned domains.
The Commission also warns players not to engage in gambling on such websites because this might lead to criminal prosecution. Other than that, the regulatory body is required to report to Belgium’s Federal Public Service for Justice. The Commission is headed by Ms. Magali Clavie, who is also a magistrate.
Belgium is home to a stringently regulated gambling market. Local players lack a broad enough choice of online casinos because of a requirement that stipulates remote operators must be linked to a landbased gambling hall, located in the country. This partially works to the benefit of local gamblers because it allows for higher levels of protection.
Yet, it also causes many of them to take their action to unauthorized foreign websites. Perhaps, if the local regulator re-evaluates its requirement for a connection between physical and remote casinos, the online sector might open to more competition in the future.