Pushback: Many Online Gambling Firms Across Europe Set to Legally Dispute New COVID-19 Rules

Author Thomas Wolf
April 20, 2020 3 min read

We’ve reported on the gambling laws and regulations coming into force across Europe over the past few weeks. From the UK to Poland, France, and Latvia, countries across the continent are passing emergency legislation to protect their populace from problem gambling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With most of Europe’s 440 million population living under some kind of lockdown measures to halt the spread of the respiratory virus, the fear is that the mental toll this long-term isolation can take may lead some people into problem gambling habits or cause them to relapse into past problems.

There is evidence that online gambling is on the rise. Companies such as 888 have seen a surge in customers, and more Americans than ever are searching for “online casino” on Google.

Many European states, already wary of the harms of problem gambling, have launched into legislation preventing gamblers from making deposits over a certain amount, banning coronavirus-related advertising, and even, in Latvia’s case, canceling online gambling completely.

Hasty Decisions

For some companies—currently, only in Latvia and Belgium—the new measures were seen as unfair enough to warrant a legal appeal to the countries’ respective high courts.

A few weeks ago, Belgian lawmakers passed a bill making a €500 ($542) weekly deposit limit compulsory for all customers across all online casinos operating in their territory.

The Belgian Association of Gambling Operators (BAGO) said it “supported the efforts aimed at protecting vulnerable players,” during this difficult time but felt that moneyed individuals who could prove their higher-income status should be allowed to continue to gamble at the rates they enjoy.

Members of the BAGO said they were not consulted about the bill before it was bought to Parliament and that they intend to appeal the ban at the highest court in Belgium—The Council of State.

They also commented that the bans might simply encourage high-stakes gamblers to visit foreign operators who don’t fall under Belgian jurisdiction and are sometimes completely unregulated.

Unjustifiable Exclusion

Meanwhile, in Latvia, politicians have taken the draconian measure of banning all online casinos in the country. One vocal complainant last week was from Georgian Ustinov, CEO of the brand Optibet.

This week, the company has gone even further—to the country’s Constitutional Court.

Optibet’s claim is that because the ban hasn’t been applied to the state-funded lottery, the new law constitutes a violation of monopoly and state intervention laws.

The company will state that it was previously, and still is, willing to work with the government to form “self-restriction and harm prevention policies” without taking what they deemed the “punitive” measure of a complete ban.

Representatives from Latvia’s £20 million-per-year online gambling taxpayers will put their case to the government’s highest court over the coming months. Should that fail, they say they are willing to take it even further up to the European Courts as the law may violate EU trading laws.

Mandatory Loss Limits

Elsewhere, though, some companies are taking matters into their own hands. Even though the UK Government recently banned credit card deposits at all online casinos, operator VideoSlots has put its own limits in place.

Every single new and existing customer will be asked to put a mandatory loss-limit on their account. These limits can be changed, but the process will take seven days, and during this time, the player will be contacted by one of VideoSlots’ trained responsible gambling advisors.

“Prompted by the pandemic while understanding it’s the right thing to do as the industry moves forward regardless, this addition is another way to further protect our players, especially during these tough times. We expect other operators to follow suit,” said Chief Executive Officer of VideoSlots, Alexander Stevendahl.

Such measures show that government intervention is not always needed, and when it is, a gentle nudge might suffice. The drastic measures taken on by some EU governments will now be challenged in expensive and lengthy court cases at a time when most people are rightly more concerned about public health matters.

Keep checking our pages for the latest updates on this story, as well as views on the fast-moving effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic on the gambling world and other important stories.

Author Thomas Wolf

Author

Thomas Wolf

384 articles

Thomas Wolf is our editor in chief. With an extensive background in online gambling (both working for casino operators and game studios) as well as an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, he's a proper authority on online casinos. When not running the day to day operations or reviewing new operators Thomas is a blackjack aficionado with some seriously big wins recorded at land-based casinos in both Las Vegas, Monaco and Macau.
Online gambling new rules covid-19 coronavirus