Peter Naessens is General Director of the Belgian Gaming Commission. He studied law at the university of Brussels, criminology at the university of Leuven and social work at Campus Kortrijk. Mr. Naessens has a large experience in legislative and regulatory advice. He coordinates the implementation of internet gambling and follows with special interest the European debate on regulation of the gambling market. Peter Naessens is a member of the European Commission Expert Group on Gambling.
At BgC 2018, Naessens will participate on April 1st at 4:15 pm in the "CULTIVATE: REGULATION & OPERATION" panel, which will cover Responsible Gaming and Rules for Gaming Advertising, Payment Methods: cash, electronic payments and bitcoin and Control System and Law Enforcement, along with Paulo Duarte Lopes (Director of Gaming Activity Planning and Control Director, Ministry of Tourism of Portugal) and Thierry Pujol (International Consultant Member of the Hall of Fame of Lottery Industry).
GMB - You will be attending next BgC edition that will be held in April in Brazil. Can you tell us a little about your plans for your participation? What is your expectation and the importance of the event?
Peter Naessens - The Belgian parliament gave green light for online gambling regulation in 2010. Since then, we discovered a new sort of regulation but based on the same good practices applied by landbased casinos. It has been an adventure as a European mid-sized country to understand how to deal with worldwide gambling characteristics, reason why the upcoming event is a chance as a country to learn from many others. For me personnally the event is a sort of flashback memory lane to our own start, so I'm very curious how a big country as Brasil is going to take up the challenge, which path they are going to choose, what we can learn from them and how our experiences could be useful for this country.
Tell us a little bit about Belgium's gaming regulation model. Which are its main characteristics? What works very well and what still needs improvement?
The Belgian online regulatory model is principally based on landbased regulation. It has definitely been the right model for a controlled opening of the online market. It allowed local operators, who have always respected the Belgian legislation, to integrate online gambling products in a way that respects the outlines of the legal framework. We've never been interested in an overcrowded market or in companies imposing their own private rules. The server must be located in the country and foreign operators must show they want to transcend a short term policy. They have to buy a landbased casino or have to enter into a partnership with a landbased gambling establishment before being allowed to offer gambling products in our market. It allowed the market to keep pace with gambling innovation, but just as important it allowed us to protect our citizens as well, e.g. with a central excluded persons systems. This system prevents addicted people from gambling and it offers a family member the possibility to exclude a relative when there is a problem of gambling addiction. We also have specialized police officers working within the Gaming Commission whose main task is to ensure that ispublic order is respected.
We can still improve on clearer online regulatory requirements and we are re-assessing if the landbased connection is still the best way forward. It was the best choice for the opening of a market, taking into account a huge illegal online market, but we want to be sure that it's still the most appropriate answer 10 years after the opening of this market.
Have you been following the legalization process of gaming activity in Brazil? Compared with your experience in Belgium, what is the biggest difference in the progress of the bills?
Since a Brazilian journalist spoke to me about the intentions of Brazil to issue legislation during ICE London in 2015, I have followed from a distance what has been happening. A gambling legislation touches many private and public interests. A gambling framework must be drawed carefully allowing a country to defend its general interest. Thus it is essential for an institution to follow the legislative path narrowly in order to advice policymakers in an objective and independent way. A “one size fits all” model does not exist. A country has to create its own model introducing good practices from other countries in a broader Brazilian framework.
Not long ago, the gaming activity suffered a defeat with the rejection of PL 186/2014 that was being processed in the Senate. How has this news been evaluated by the international market and what consequences can it bring in terms of the interest of businessmen in the future market?
I don't know the details behind this, but a parliamentary decision is in our view never a defeat. The operation of gambling activities must be backed by parliament and by society in general. The society suffers from negative effects related to gambling, e.g. with regard to gambling addiction. Without appropriate return to society (employment, taxation,…) an entirely liberalized market is difficult to bear. A businessmen in the field of gambling must be able to take up a responsibility towards citizens and public order. If not, prohibition is just around the corner.
Despite this defeat, news has emerged that gaming activity can be legalized gradually, first with casinos and online, and then with other modalities. Do you think this is the best way for this moment or would it be better for the market to open with all gaming modalities at the same time?
Should we be able to re-launch the Belgian project, I think it would be based on the same principle, that means a controlled opening of the market that allows local and foreign operators to conduct gambling businesses, because it allowed us to follow the market more narrowly and to intervene if necessary. Maybe we should have better communicated about our decisions towards different stakeholders, but a gradual opening of the market remains essential.
After the legalization of the activity in Brazil it will be required the creation of a regulatory agency, such as the Gaming Commission of Belgium. Based on the Belgian experience, what are the main guidelines that the country should follow in order to set up this agency and that it can do a good job?
It would be of added value if you can find civil servants having a certain regulatory experience, but fundamentally they have to be aware that there is no robust framework of rules to regulate the market on a daily basis. Backed by a parliamentary Act, outlining the main principles that have to be applied, those civil servants have to elaborate appropriate decisions that serve the general interest of the country. A huge illegal market does not protect at all local consumers and is against public order. Essentially a gaming commission must be able to take a stand towards companies not clearly respecting the Brazilian legislation.
Finally, what is your expectation for the Brazilian gaming market after the legalization of the gaming activity in the country? Do you believe that Brazil can become one of the biggest markets in the world? What are the main precautions to take, until we reach this level?
As a regulator our scope is not the biggest market, the most innovative market, or the best ebitda producing market. Even if we have to understand the economics behind, our aim is regulatory. We want to offer the Belgian State the possibility to maintain control on the local gambling market, without neglecting the people's propensity to gamble. If Brasil is going to show that profitable gambling goes hand in hand with protecting its population, then it is going to play in the World League of regulated gambling. In Belgium we try to defend our red lines (e.g. with regard to minors) and with respect for the parliamentary framework our device has been 'principally pragmatic and pragmatically principle'. Never forget the red lines but try to protect your principles by executing a realistic gambling policy that meets and protects your citizens.