Belgian Gaming Commission takes gambling Web site to task over betting on political crisis

Brussels, Belgium: Belgium’s gaming commission took international gambling Web site Unibet to task on Wednesday over its game allowing gamblers to place bets on when the country’s political crisis will come to an end.

The commission said it filed a complaint with the Brussels prosecutors office claiming Unibet’s game of chance on when Belgium’s deeply divided political leaders will form a new national government was against the law. Elections were held June 10.

„Gambling on a date when a new government is formed is illegal,“ Marc Callu from the Gaming Commission told VRT radio.

Callu said that under Belgian law people are not allowed to wager on events other than sports games or horse races.

Efforts to form a Belgian government remain deadlocked four months after national elections, due to a dispute between the country’s Dutch-speaking and French-speaking halves, raising questions about Belgium’s survival as a country.

Coalition talks collapsed over Flemish calls for more self-rule and the redrawing of a bilingual, Brussels-area voting district.

Unibet’s Internet site offers gamblers 25 to 1 odds for those who think a new government will be formed before Oct.1, dropping to 2.5 to 1 if they pick a date after Dec. 1, 2007.

Similarly, online gamblers can bet on who will be picked as next prime minister from a list of seven political leaders including outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian Democrat Party which got the most seats in the June 10 election and Belgium’s EU Commissioner Louis Michel.

Online gamblers, however, are not offered a wager on whether Belgium will survive as a country amid growing worries the nation’s unity is at stake due to deep political divisions.

An official from Unibet Group PLC, which operates game of chance Web sites across many EU countries and elsewhere, said they were doing nothing wrong under Belgian or European Union regulations.

„Unibet certainly thinks it is unfair,“ said Christoph de Preter, legal counsel for Unibet’s Belgian and EU operations, adding the Malta-based company „will continue to offer its bets on the Internet, including the bet on the formation of the new government, as it has done over the last years.“

De Preter said it was not the first time Belgian gaming authorities had threatened legal action and he said he felt it was unlikely that Wednesday’s crackdown was a reaction to the political crisis.

He said Unibet’s offering games of chance on political events was not illegal under EU-wide gambling rules.

The company also listed similar bets on Poland’s October elections and a vote planned in Norway in 2009 and on which Democratic or Republican candidates would win the presidential primaries in the United States.