Defying an order from the European Union (EU), Belgium has enacted laws that could have it become the next nation to nationalize online poker operations. It follows a similar stance towards online poker in Italy.
A recent article in De Standaard, one of Belgium’s newspapers, stated that the coming year would bring laws regarding the country’s stance towards online poker. The new regulations would purportedly nationalize the operations of online poker rooms by preventing outside companies, such as PartyPoker, PokerStars, and Full Tilt Poker, from being able to court Belgians. Online poker rooms would have to set up a separate operation that would be licensed by the Belgian government and located inside of the country, much like what Italy has done with its online poker operations.
This defies an order from the EU that was issued in June 2009. After receiving details on Belgium’s plans for online poker regulation from its government in March of last year, the EU decided that the plan violated several areas of the free trade treaty that all 27 member nations had signed. Some of the violations included requiring the operators of online gaming and poker sites to be based in Belgium, limitation of available licenses, criminal prosecution of customers who play on non-sanctioned sites, and restriction of services from outside nations. At the time, Belgium was also looking to use ISP blocking software to prohibit its citizens from playing on other licensed EU sites.
The EU has shown an inconsistency when it comes to nationalization plans. It allowed Italy to nationalize its online gaming operations, presumably for taxation and gaming regulatory purposes, but has disallowed other countries like Belgium and France. It also has been unable to come to an accord on the online gaming question among its own Member Nations, leading many countries to attempt to nationalize online poker for tax revenues in lean fiscal times. The government of Belgium also states that many of the online poker sites in existence have “ties to organized crime” and, as such, the need for the nationalization is necessary.
The online community is responding to this issue in many of the popular online forums. On TwoPlusTwo, a ten-page thread has developed with players are debating the issue. Part of the reason for its popularity is that one of the top online players in the game today, “Chiren80,” hails from Belgium and the proposed legislation would, in effect, remove him from international action with the threat of possible arrest.
Some of the discussion on TwoPlusTwo inaccurately says that the nationalized sites would still be part of the global network, much like different skins of poker rooms operate. This is not true; the nationalization of sites requires the online poker room to dedicate servers and operations to that nation alone, as PokerStars has done with its PokerStars.it site. With that operation, only Italians can play on the site and there are stringent rules that govern play.
The nationalization trend is, in some players’ minds, becoming a worrisome trend. “Nationalization of gambling environments and…the separation of player pools are real dangers for professional poker players in small European countries,” comments “Droschopf.” Another poster, “Sjors,” states, “I’m fine with regulating but don’t cut off the world. Playing against people on the other side of the globe and having traffic around the clock is what makes online poker great.”
With the Belgian laws signed into effect, there is a great deal of pressure on the EU to formalize an agreement on online gaming and poker for the continent. Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest.