In the country for a conference, bwin.Party co-CEO Norbert Teufelberger has been detained by Belgian authorities for discussions on the actions of the company in the country since laws were passed regarding Belgium’s online poker regulations.
Teufelberger’s detainment was announced by bwin.Party in a simple statement on the company’s website this morning (afternoon in Europe). “In response to press reports this afternoon, the Group can confirm that Norbert Teufelberger was requested to attend an interview with the Belgian authorities,” the statement began. “He complied voluntarily with this request and is cooperating fully with the authorities. We will issue further details in due course.”
Teufelberger is in Brussels for the Responsible Gaming Day conference, a meeting held by the European Gaming & Betting Association to discuss the ever-changing face of online gaming and poker on the European continent. Although full details of the reasons for Teufelberger’s detention are not known, it is thought that the Belgian authorities wanted to discuss bwin.Party’s ongoing activities in the country without the proper licenses.
Earlier this year, Belgium joined several other European Union members in setting up strict, “nation specific” laws regarding online gaming and poker in the country. Much like France, Italy, Spain and Germany have done regarding their online poker industry, Belgium set up a requirement that companies had to obtain a license from the government to be allowed to enter the country’s market. These regulations require that the individual companies team with an established casino operation in Belgium as well as set up a “dot.be” site (although these sites would be for Belgian citizens exclusively, the players would be able to play against the international community).
Once these regulations were put in place, bwin.Party continued to offer gaming to the tiny nation (population: roughly 10.5 million as of 2011) without getting the necessary licensing. The Belgian government then took the step of “blacklisting” bwin.Party, most notable for PartyPoker, which allows the government to block the IP address of the company as well as punish Belgian citizens who play on the bwin.Party offerings with financial penalties.
bwin.Party shook off this blacklisting by simply changing their domain, which was also blacklisted by the Belgian government in July of this year. This prompted bwin.Party to file a lawsuit against the Belgian government for infringement of free trade under European Union treaty arrangements, but Belgian courts dismissed the case. Instead, the company was fined by the Belgian courts €75,000 for violating Belgian laws. The detainment of Teufelberger is just the latest escalation of the conflict between the two sides.
The Belgian “black list” contains some of the biggest names in European online gaming and poker. Such sites as Betfair, William Hill, 888 Poker, Everest Poker and Titan Poker are among the estimated fifty sites who are legally not allowed to offer gaming or poker to Belgian citizens. There are only three companies that have gone through the process and been legally licensed by the Belgian government: PokerStars, Partouche and GPWin, all of which have “.be” specific sites for the country.
The battle in Belgium is one that has been seen across Europe frequently and, for the most part, has been upheld by the EU Legislature. At this time, approximately one quarter of the 27 member nations have some sort of laws that regulate online gaming and poker for its citizens to nation specific sites, apparently for the purpose of taxation. Few countries, however, have tried to pressure online gaming companies by detaining their leadership, as Belgium has in the Teufelberger case, and it isn’t known at this time if any charges will be filed.