bwin.party’s legal action aimed at getting its domains removed from the Belgian Gaming Commission’s blacklist of illegal sites has been thrown out by a Belgian court.
The bwin and PartyPoker brand owner issued the lawsuit last month against the Minister of Justice and the Gaming Commission citing the “enormous” financial, commercial and reputational damage of its bwin.com website being added to the list of blocked domains on 9 May while it awaited the outcome of its applications for land-based and online licences in the EU Member State. Dot.com domains belonging to Betfair, William Hill, Betsson, BetClic Everest, 888, Titan Poker and Winamax are also on the Commission’s 30-strong blacklist.
However, the Court of First Instance in Brussels has rejected bwin.party’s demand that websites run by its Gibraltar-based subsidiary Electra Works Ltd and French-licensed arm BES SAS be removed from the blacklist and Belgian players’ access to the websites restored.
According to a statement issued by lawyer Bart Heynickx of Altius, the law firm defending the Gaming Commission: “It’s only natural that a provider of online gaming, that consciously chose to operate illegally, cannot expect to be afforded the protection of the Belgian courts.”
At an initial hearing on 25 May, lawyers for the Belgian state had disputed bwin.party’s claim that placing its domains on a blacklist was invalid because no law granting the Commission this legal power yet existed. They argued that the illegality of these sites under Belgian law had been proven by last July’s ruling of the Belgian Constitutional Court and that of the Correctional Court in Brussels last March, where bwin, now bwin.party, was ordered to pay a fine of €75,000 due to its bwin.be website breaching Belgian law.
Under the Belgian Royal Decree that came into effect on 1 January last year, online permits are restricted to licensed land-based gaming entities in Belgium, with nine A+ licences on offer to casinos, 34 F1+ permits to sports betting operators and around 180 B+ licences to arcade operators. Under the legislation, the four largest internet service providers are compelled to block sites that aren’t in receipt of a licence from the Belgian Gaming Commission. Online operators without a Belgian licence face potential fines of up to €100,000 for “facilitating”, “advertising” or “recruiting” for illegal games of chance in Belgium. Players in the country also face fines of up to €25,000 for playing on sites that haven’t been licensed by the Commission.
The Belgian Constitutional Court refused in July last year to raise a preliminary question with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) over the requirements for online applicants to hold a land-based licence and to locate servers within the country. This followed a claim by Betfair, Telebet and the Remote Gambling Association that these provisions breached equality and non-discriminatory principles of the Belgian constitution and Articles 49 and 56 of the EU Treaty on freedom of establishment and provision of services. The national court argued that restrictions on operators’ rights enshrined within the Treaty to offer online gambling into Member States from jurisdictions within the EEA were legitimate and proportionate, and supported by previous CJEU decisions.