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Belgium is one of the countries which does allow online poker to be played legally, with the full permission of the government, but does have some strict controls placed upon it. The government of Belgium is in fact even more serious at having its residents comply with their regulations though which are fairly narrow in scope.
Current legislation requires online poker sites offering play to Belgian residents to obtain a license to do so, and while this does technically require a physical presence in Belgium, operators have found a way around this, and this not only allows for casino operators in Belgium to run their own sites, it also permits poker companies to team up with casino operators to offer joint ventures, with the casino lending their name to the operation in exchange for compensation.
So for instance we have seen industry leader PokerStars obtain a license to operate in Belgium by their joining forces with one of the casinos there, in this case Casino de Namur who holds the casino license. (1) This allows PokerStars and other poker operations willing to go to these lengths to obtain a Belgian gaming license the opportunity to market to Belgian players under full permission of the government.
Online poker and gambling in general in Belgium is pretty tightly regulated by the Belgium Gambling Commission, and includes things that you don’t see elsewhere such as monitoring the loss rate of players and excluding those from all licensed web sites that are deemed to be crossing the acceptable threshold.
Belgian authorities boast about such things as providing a level of protection that so called illegal sites cannot offer and extend this protection throughout the list of licensed sites, so it’s not just a matter of not being able to play at a certain poker site and then just playing elsewhere, as players become excluded in all Belgian licensed poker sites by way of this.
While some players may complain about this, it’s not a terrible idea overall but more than anything it speaks to the level of control desired by Belgian gaming authorities overall.
The Consequences Of Non-Compliance
The regulatory framework in Belgium has of course led to a list of approved sites, and players of course are limited to playing in licensed poker sites only, as is always the case with poker regulation. One of the main reasons why jurisdictions regulate this sort of thing is to exercise control and a big part of this control is telling you where you can and cannot play.
Other countries strive for this as well in their regulations but typically don’t go after players with criminal sanctions. This can lead to regulators bemoaning the fact that player compliance isn’t as high as they would like, and perhaps even going as far as looking to block access to unlicensed operators’ web sites by residents.
Belgium goes much further than this and makes it not only a crime to play on non approved poker sites, it also wields a big stick in doing so. Violators who are caught playing at these so called grey sites are subject to a fine of up to €150,000 and 3 years in prison. (2)
Whether or not the Belgian government ever follows through with this or not, and if anyone is willing to do that they certainly are, may be another matter, as these cases can be very difficult to prosecute, but based upon recent comments from the authorities they are definitely serious about this and have recently doubled the amount of “inspectors” on staff.
Unlike other countries, they do understand that the success of prohibition is going to rest on altering the behavior of those under its jurisdiction, the people actually located in Belgium in other words, rather than focusing their efforts on operators outside of the country who aren’t really subject to their laws.
So given all of this, it seems wise for Belgian players to confine their play to approved and licensed operations only, and there are currently several options available, including having access to the world’s biggest poker site by far, so this certainly isn’t anywhere as restrictive as you see generally with regulation, for reasons we’re about to explain.
Belgium’s Open Approach To Online Poker Regulation
Belgium is definitely a smallish country with a population of only 11 million, which may be enough to support a domestic online poker market, but probably not a very burgeoning one to say the least.
So while other countries such as France and Italy have required that operators run sites that are exclusive to the country, in other words cordoning off the player pools to residents of the country only, Belgium has taken a much wiser approach to the problem.
One of the biggest complaints that players have about online poker regulation is that it serves to shrink the player pool from being able to play against players from all over the world, as they were accustomed to prior to regulation, to now only being able to play against players from their own country.
So if someone was playing at the main Poker Stars site for instance, and now have to play at Poker Stars France or Poker Stars Italy, they may find that the country specific site does not have the amount of traffic they desire, due to the player pool being much smaller.
So in a country the size of Belgium this would be an even bigger concern, as in an even smaller player pool, but Belgian authorities decided not to place such a restriction on the market, so their players may be playing at Pokerstars.be for instance but can access the main Poker Stars player pool.
There’s no real reason why other countries can’t do this and in fact this is the way the U.K. is looking to set up their regulation as well now. It’s likely that regulators didn’t really understand the significance of this when they came up with their scheme but there’s no question that domestic player pools negatively impact revenue by encouraging less play.
This is the biggest reason by far that regulated online poker consistently shows results that are well below predicted numbers, as smaller player pools fail to create the kind of interest necessary to see the operations even come close to achieving their full potential. This is not a problem with the Belgian scheme though.
So this certainly takes the bite out of regulation for Belgian players and take the situation from perhaps a dicey one as far as success goes if it had been confined to a smallish Belgian player pool only and provide what it needs to achieve the success that everyone wants to see.