Belgian hassles for Unibet


RIP Brian
Feb 22, 2001

Belgian Gaming Commission lays complaint against Unibet

The online gambling group Unibet found itself at the centre of another European controversy this week as the Belgian Gaming Commission filed a complaint regarding its political proposition betting policy on the formation of Belgium's new government.

The commission said it filed a complaint with the Brussels prosecutor's office claiming Unibet's game of chance on when Belgium's deeply divided political leaders will form a new national government was against the law. Elections were held June 10.

"Gambling on a date when a new government is formed is illegal," Marc Callu from the Gaming Commission told VRT radio.

According to a widely published Associated Press report, Unibet facilitates real money betting, in this case on a Belgian political event, and claims that the policy is entirely legal and above board in terms of European law. This position is contested by the Belgian authorities, who allege that event betting is verboten under Belgian law with the exception of licensed sports competitions and horse racing.

If Unibet has it wrong, the consequences can be expensive - a penalty of a 6-month to 5-year suspension and a fine of up to Euro 100 000. Unibet points out that there is no obstacle to organising this kind of betting in other European countries. European treaties ensure that this must also be the case in Belgium, Unibet says.

The AP report gives the background to the proposition bet. Belgian politicians have been deadlocked for the past several months due to a dispute between the country's Dutch-speaking and French-speaking representatives, raising questions about Belgium's survival as a country.

Unibet's Internet site offers gamblers 25 to 1 odds for those who think a new government will be formed before October 1, dropping to 2.5 to 1 if they pick a date after December 1, 2007.

Similarly, online gamblers can bet on who will be picked as next prime minister from a list of seven political leaders including outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian Democrat Party which garnered the most seats in the June 10 election and Belgium's EU Commissioner Louis Michel.

Online gamblers, however, are not offered a wager on whether Belgium will survive as a country amid growing worries the nation's unity is at stake due to the deep political divisions.

An official from Unibet Group plc, which operates game of chance Web sites across many EU countries and elsewhere, said they were doing nothing wrong under Belgian or European Union regulations.

Christoph de Preter, legal counsel for Unibet's Belgian and EU operations, said that the Malta-based company "will continue to offer its bets on the Internet, including the bet on the formation of the new government, as it has done over the last years."

De Preter said it was not the first time Belgian gaming authorities had threatened legal action and he said he felt it was unlikely that Wednesday's crackdown was a reaction to the political crisis. He said Unibet's offering games of chance on political events was not illegal under EU-wide gambling rules.

The company also listed similar bets on Poland's October elections and a vote planned in Norway in 2009 and on which Democratic or Republican candidates would win the presidential primaries in the United States.