Belgium-licensed online gambling operators will have to abide by a new weekly player deposit limit of €200 as of today (20 October).

The Belgian Gambling Commission (BGC) first published the new rules three months ago, which reduced the previous player limit of €500 to €200 per week and per website.

The new deposit restrictions apply to operators of games of chance and come at a time when affordability checks are widely being discussed and implemented across the European gambling industry.

In Belgium, players can ask operators to increase the limit back to €500. Unless specifically requested, the deposit limit will remain at the new level of €200.

Upon receiving a request from an operator – on behalf of a player – to increase the limit, the authority will consult the National Bank of Belgium before deciding within three days whether the request should be granted.

If approved, the BGC then checks monthly with the National Bank whether the player has defaulted on any payments and is listed in Belgium’s Central Individual Credit Register.

If a player is listed as a debtor, the operator will have to immediately reduce the deposit limit to €200.

Players can also request that their deposit limit be lowered, and operators must process such requests immediately.

The regulator also recommended that players should not spend more than 5% of their income on gambling.

iGaming has been legal in Belgium since 2011 and operators require a licence to target Belgian consumers.

Sports betting operators in Germany are struggling to receive the green light to accept player deposits exceeding the €1,000 monthly limit, even though exemptions allowing deposits up to €30,000 should be possible in some cases.

Joerg Hofmann, head of the gaming and betting law practice of Melchers Law Firm in Germany, shared this during a recent webinar providing an update on gaming in Germany.

Operators may not get approval to extend player deposit limits before 2023 due to technical issues with the country’s monitoring system LUGAS, as well as the transfer of power from the current licensing body to Germany’s new gambling regulator, the GGL, he said.

Although Germany’s Fourth Interstate Treaty introduced stringent player protection measures and deposit limits, there are certain exemptions for sports betting operators, in particular for those that applied for a licence under Germany’s previous regime.

While operators had to observe a €1,000 stake limit under the previous Interstate Treaty, they were able to apply for higher stake limits with the Regional Council of Darmstadt, which had been tasked with issuing sports betting licences.

Provided certain conditions were met, such as setting a maximum bet amount and a special loss limit, operators were allowed to implement stake limits up to €10,000 or even up to €30,000 under the regime.

When in July 2021 Germany’s Fourth Interstate Treaty entered into force, it removed the stake limit in favour of a deposit limit, which was set at €1,000 per player per month and which applies across all gambling platforms.

However, the previous extended stake limits of €10,000 and €30,000 were then considered to be new “extended deposit limits” which the Regional Council in Darmstadt was able to grant, Hofmann said.

Thus far, the Regional Council in Darmstadt has whitelisted 34 sports betting operators. However, according to Hofmann many others are still waiting for their licences, with delays caused by various factors including limited staff capacity in Darmstadt and a lengthy licensing procedure.

Melchers Law Firm senior partner Joerg Hofmann: “According to information which has yet to be officially confirmed, the Regional Council in Darmstadt will only focus on processing the pending applications and will not make any decisions about deposit limits. If this is true it means that the GGL would need to take over but the GGL can only make a decision after 1  January 2023,”

There are concerns in the industry that the Regional Council in Darmstadt will not be able to process the pending applications before the end of 2022, when it will need to transfer its powers to the GGL. The industry is now questioning what this means for future deposit limit extensions.

The GGL started operating on 1 July. However, initially it will only focus on fighting illegal gambling and advertising, before also taking charge of the licensing process on 1 January 2023.

“According to information which has yet to be officially confirmed, the Regional Council in Darmstadt will only focus on processing the pending applications and will not make any decisions about deposit limits. If this is true it means that the GGL would need to take over but the GGL can only make a decision after 1  January 2023,” Hofmann said.

“This would be a disastrous situation for the industry, as operators will most likely face a delay and an extended period during which they will only be able to accept €1,000 deposits per month,” Hofmann said.

Moreover, he highlighted that there are some issues with Germany’s gaming supervision system LUGAS, which aims to ensure that websites abide by deposit limits and prevents players from using multiple websites to circumvent the limits.

“Currently, the LUGAS system is not able to check deposits beyond €1,000. That’s for technical reasons. So, there are still some issues that need to get fixed before the beginning of next year,” Hofmann said.

The gambling industry also raised concerns over data protection when LUGAS was first introduced.

There is a need for immediate communication between the industry and the regulators, Hoffmann concluded. However, he also highlighted that he has confidence in the GGL’s ability to create and enforce a properly regulated market in Germany in the near future.

It is not yet known whether deposit limit extensions will be brought in for operators of online slots and poker.

Sweden looks set to reintroduce online casino restrictions for licensed operators, including a weekly deposit limit for online casino gaming of SEK4,000.

According to Minister for Social Security Ardalan Shekarabi, the government is keen to take measures to protect consumers online if restrictions to control the spread of Covid-19 are extended in the country beyond 31 January. 

The Swedish government’s response to the pandemic was enhanced throughout December as cases of the Omicron variant of the virus began to spread rapidly across the nation. 

This saw new restrictions placed upon passengers travelling to Sweden, as well as on the activities of those already in the country.

As for the gaming sector, Shekarabi said on Twitter today (4 January) that: “The risks in the gaming market require that we tighten consumer protection, not least to protect the most vulnerable consumers.”

He added that because the newly introduced measures may contribute to “a situation where the pandemic leads to people becoming more socially isolated, there is an increased risk for vulnerable consumers to end up in or intensify problem gambling.”

Nu föreslår vi återigen skärpta regler på spelmarknaden under pandemin, som en följd av det rådande läget. Riskerna på spelmarknaden kräver att vi skärper konsumentskyddet, inte minst för att skydda de mest utsatta konsumenterna.

— Ardalan Shekarabi (@shekarabi) January 4, 2022

Sweden’s government has therefore proposed that new limits be placed on online casino play from 7 February until the end of June this year. The proposal is now out for consultation. 

Swedish-licensed operators are no strangers to online casino restrictions implemented by Shekarabi and enforced by the Swedish Gambling Authority (SGA).

A controversial SEK5,000 weekly deposit limit for online casino players was first introduced on a temporary basis in the country’s iGaming sector in July 2020, following the onset of the pandemic.

The end-date for those measures was subsequently postponed on multiple occasions before restrictions were eventually lifted on 14 November 2021.

The new proposals will see the deposit limit reduced by SEK1,000 from the original restrictions. Just as before, players must specify a time limit for games at online casinos and slot machines and bonuses will be capped at SEK 100.

Gustaf Hoffstedt, general secretary of Sweden’s online gaming association BOS, said the reintroduction of tighter restrictions on online gambling goes against the spirit of protecting public health.

He believes the government must show that casino play has increased significantly before implementing measures to reduce it.

“Before the deposit limits, you played with one or two gaming companies, but after the introduction of the limits, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of gaming companies per individual player,” Hoffstedt said. 

“Thus, the statutory duty of care, which aims for the gaming company to acquire an overall picture of gaming behaviour and offer support to risk players, is lost.

“When gambling becomes as fragmented as it becomes with deposit limits, no individual gaming company can capture risky gaming behaviour, and thus a cornerstone of Swedish consumer protection in the gaming law is lost,” he added. 

Photo: Kristian Pohl/Government Offices of Sweden