In news that has taken the poker world by surprise, Norbert Teufelberger, co-CEO of the online gaming firm bwin.party, was detained by Belgian police in Brussels Tuesday. Teufelberger was in town for Responsible Gaming Day, put on by the European and Betting and Gaming Association’s (EGBA), an organization which he chairs.
Teufelberger was not arrested; he was asked to sit down to be questioned about his company’s continued presence in Belgium. Belgium has very strict regulations when it comes to online poker licensing, requiring operators that apply have a brick-and-mortar presence in the country. Only six operators – PokerStars.be, Poker770.be, Partouche.be, Win2day, GoldenPalace.be, and Unibet – have made the cut. Not all of them actually have land-based casinos in Belgium; they were able to get licensed by partnering with established brick-and-mortar casino operators.
Not only has bwin.party been unable to get a poker license, but it has had sites it owns, such as bwin.be, added to a blacklist by the Belgian Gaming Commission (BGC). Despite that, bwin.party has turned its nose up at the BGC, continuing to offer games to customers in Belgium. Teufelberger reportedly told analysts this month that an online poker block is never “100 percent safe.”
The timing of the detainment was not the best for Teufelberger, as not only is he the chairman of the EGBA, but he was also scheduled to make the closing remarks at Responsible Gaming Day. A spokesperson for the BGC did tell eGaming Review (EGR), “He is permitted to make his speech, and after that he has to answer questions and explain why bwin is not following the rules with regards to offering games of chance [in Belgium].”
His company likely would have attempted to warn him, but it only found out that Belgian law enforcement wanted to question Teufelberger after receiving a letter written in Flemish. It did not have time to give him sufficient warning.
“Based on his answers the public prosecution will decide whether he will remain in custody,” the BGC spokesperson added.
bwin.party has tried to fight its blacklisting. Earlier this year, it filed a lawsuit against the BGC, but Belgium’s Court of Instance dismissed the case in June.
Not that it needed confirmation, but bwin.party released the following statement on its website Tuesday about Teufelberger’s apprehension:
In response to press reports this afternoon, the Group can confirm that Norbert Teufelberger, Co-CEO, was requested to attend an interview with the Belgium authorities. He complied voluntarily with this request and is co-operating fully with the authorities. We will issue further details in due course.
The financial markets did not react kindly to Tuesday’s news. Shares of bwin.party dropped 4.90p on the London Stock Exchange, a loss of 4.15 percent.