Private operators hit back in sports betting fight with Belgian Lottery

20th March 2014 9:41 am GMT

Belgium’s Council of State has cancelled the Royal Decree concerning the provision of sports betting services by the state-owned Loterie Nationale following a legal challenge by private licensed operators.

The Belgian National Lottery (Loterie Nationale) began offering sports betting under the brand name SCOOORE! to its customers across its retail estate and Nationale-loterij.be online channel last year, after being granted a licence by Belgian authorities in August 2012.

However, under Belgian gambling laws which came into force in January 2011, the number of available sports betting licenses was set at a maximum of 34 in order to limit the gambling offering in the national market.

The Belgian National Lottery was the 35th company to be awarded a sports betting licence after a new Royal Decree was published in 2012.

Three private licensed operators, including Stanleybet, lodged a complaint in October 2012 with the Belgian Council of State requesting the annulment and suspension of the Royal Decree concerning the provision of betting services by the National Lottery.

At the time Stanleybet argued that the granting of an additional license to the National Lottery placed it in a “beneficial and privileged situation” versus its competitors as it was explicitly granted a new licence while all private operators had to follow an application procedure.

The company further contended that the massive scale of the lottery’s offering from all press outlets across the country gave it a unique advantage to “literally corner the Belgian sports betting market in a manner which falls foul of every notion of EU competition law”.

In a decision this week, the Council of State agreed with Stanleybet and the two other operators (thought to be Bingoal and Betfirst), ruling that the 2012 Royal Decree placed the lottery in a “more beneficial” position on the market than other operators.

“The Loterie was in fact able to automatically benefit from a class F1 license by simply meeting the conditions for such a license, which the Gaming Authority observed in their decision to issue such a license on November 7th 2012,” it said.

The Council of State disagreed with the arguments put forward by the state and the lottery that the specific regime put in place served the public interest by channelling the gaming offering and protecting customers against the risks related to sports betting.

It said that in fact, since the reform of the gaming legislation in 2010, the organisation of sports betting no longer formed part of the category of activities for which the lottery had a legal monopoly.

The Council of State concluded that the material motivation for the Royal Decree of 2012 was incorrect.

“The decree referred to the necessity to offer the lottery the possibility to organise sports betting to execute its public service role, but at the time the decree was issued, the respective additional regulations on this public service role were not yet elaborated nor were they defined in the decree,” said the Council of State.

The Decree has now been annulled, although Nationale-loterij.be continues to offer its SCOOORE! online sports betting offering to customers through its existing licence.

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