bwin.party Co-CEO Norbert Teufelberger Detained, Released by Belgian Authorities
One of the two co-CEOs of bwin.party entertainment, Norbert Teufelberger, found himself a temporary guest for Belgian authorities this week after being invited in for an interview. Teufelberger spent two hours answering questions after being removed from the European Gaming and Betting Association’s (EGBA) “Responsible Gaming Day” gathering in Brussels.
Teufelberger, in addition to being the co-CEO of bwin.party (along with James Ryan), also serves as the chairman of EGBA, a small consortium of EU-based online sites that also includes Betclic, Expekt, Unibet, Interwetten, Bet-at-Home and Digibet.
Given that EGBA represents itself as promoting “the implementation of a fair, competitive and regulated market for online gaming operators throughout Europe in line with EU law,” the conflict with Belgian authorities seems somewhat pre-planned, in the sense of Teufelberger and EGBA taken an antagonistic stance.
Bwin.party has neither applied nor been approved for a license under Belgium’s own national laws, and several of the company’s domains have already been added to a growing blacklist maintained by Belgian authorities.
Just two weeks ago, the EGBA issued a press release supporting the European Union’s purported toughened stance in enforcing gambling laws in EU member states, which include Belgium. According to that EGBA presser, “EU online gambling operators hail the European Commission’s decision to start enforcing EU law against illegal national gambling laws. This decision is part of the twofold approach of the Commission´s Communication on Online Gambling that also contains actions for the first common European measures to be set in this sector.”
Pretty sure it’s easy to see where EGBA and Teufelberger were heading when they scheduled this meet in Brussels. In July, Belgium slapped bwin.party with a €75,000 fine for continuing to operate in contravention of Belgian law; no word on whether bwin.party paid the virtual parking ticket.
It’s also curious that bwin.party chose to pick this fight with Belgium, instead of one of the EU member countries where nationalized sites are already enforced, including France, Italy and Spain. France and Italy, like Belgium, are part of the “original six” of EU member countries, which goes all the way back to 1952.
The increased balkanization of EU member states regarding online gambling services has been a problem for over a decade, and in many ways mirrors the state-vs.-federal situation in the US. That said, the European Union has made similar noises before about forcing member countries to adhere to the EU’s open-market agreements for online gambling. Despite the statement above, very little has every come of it, and for most of the last decade, EU member states have flaunted that portion of the EU trade agreements.
Bwin.party issued a very succinct statement confirming Teufelberger’s detention. It is unknown to this writer whether Teufelberger was released in time to return to the EGBA conference and give his closing speech, as news reports confirm he has left Belgium.
However, the EGBA has published the full body of his planned closing speech. In it, Teufelberger blasted unnamed individual EU member states for charging tax rates too high for open competition — meaning rates in excess of 20%, which Teufelberger termed a “rate of no return” for operators.
Teufelberger’s speech also jabbed Belgium’s blocking and blacklist practices, noting that “they can easily be circumvented,” as Party has done to date in continuing to operate in Belgium without a license.
Bwin.party and the other EGBA members, as with many other European-based companies not part of the group, clearly remain backers of EU efforts to standardize online gambling across all EU countries. As Teufelberger’s planned speech intoned, “We believe that only a hard law approach will deliver the concrete results necessary to stop the rapid emergence of 27 mini markets,” in reference to each of the 27 EU member or affiliate countries.
So, Teufelberger’s detainment can be seen as a bit of tit-for-tat. Whereas Teufelberger wrote about “Member States who flout EU law,” including Belgium, it is noted that he and bwin.party were also flouting the relevant Belgian law, intentionally so.
Right or wrong, there’s one thing an online-gambling site should remember: The home team has the edge. Traveling to Brussels just to tweak the Belgian authorities nose was destined to produce exactly this effect, and it appears to be a line drawn in the sand by bwin.party and EGBA regarding their intent to comply with EU agreements rather than various national laws.