Belgium is notorious for their strict controls over online gambling sites in their country, as the government there has taken harsh measures against illegal operators who have tried to offer Internet wagering within its borders.
But Belgium is going even a step further now, fining players who have been found to have made illegal bets on one unlicensed site.
The Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC) has levied fines against 79 players who gambled on BetClic.com, a site run by BetClic Everest but which was not licensed to operate in Belgium.
Players will face fines of €200 ($223) for placing the unauthorized bets.
Larger Fines Could Come for Bigger Gamblers
The players being targeted here are just the first wave, however, and represent nickel and dime players in the grand scheme of things. The BGC has bigger plans for targeting major bettors who wagered thousands of Euros on BetClic, with fines of up to €16,000 ($17,850) for a large group of higher-stakes gamblers expected to come down next month.
Even for countries with strict controls on Internet gambling, punishments for players are relatively rare. For instance, while the United States government has made some historically major moves against online poker sites, neither the federal nor state governments in the USA have made a point of going after individual bettors.
In fact, in most states, there aren’t even laws against those who gamble online, just against the operators running the sites.
But Belgium has always been a special case in Europe, as they have taken almost every step possible to block unauthorized online gambling.
Belgium has employed a strong blacklist against unauthorized websites, forcing ISPs to block the websites of nearly 100 different real money gambling companies, including major players like Betfair and William Hill.
BetClic Troubles in Belgium Began Last Year
The battle with BetClic Everest goes back to February 2014, when Belgium’s Public Prosecution Office seized €600,000 ($670,000) they said came from unauthorized online gambling by Belgians.
That amount is the maximum fine the BGC can levy against a company under Belgian law, though the fines can be doubled if regulators find that the illegal activity was especially egregious, and board members could also potentially have been charged with crimes that carry prison sentences of up to five years.
BetClic was one of the first sites placed on the Belgian blacklists in 2012, and was never issued a license to operate online gambling sites in the country. Despite that, the company claimed they were surprised by the actions taken against them and said they would work to fix the situation.
In the face of a fine of up to €1.2 million ($1.34 million), BetClic eventually decided to pull out of Belgium. That decision came in April 2014; since then, each of BetClic Everest’s four branded websites have been unavailable to Belgian residents.
While the BetClic saga marks the first time that players have been fined by the BGC for illegal gambling, this is far from the only example of the Belgian government being aggressive in their campaign against unlicensed operators.
In November 2012, bwin.party CEO Norbert Teufelberger was detained in Belgium after BGC officials declared that bwin.party was the “most aggressive” unlicensed operator still active in Belgium. While Teufelberger was eventually released, bwin.party had to enter into a licensing deal with a land-based casino operator in Belgium before they could legally continue to offer online gambling to Belgian customers.