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Online Gambling Operator Bwin CEO Detained

By: Fabian Rictor, Friday November 16th 2012
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In an incident mildly reminiscent of the period following the imposition of the UIGEA in the United States, Norbert Teufelberger the co-chief executive officer of Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment was detained by Belgian authorities for questioning on Tuesday November 13. Bwin.Party is Europe’s largest online gambling company. Teufelberger also wears another hat, that of the chairman of the European Betting and Gaming Association (EGBA). He was in Brussels to attend the annual Responsible Gaming Day conference of the EGBA. The assumed reason for the detention was that Bwin.Party is on the black list of companies of the Belgian Gambling Commission since it is deemed to be operating illegally in Belgium.

Bwin.Party responded initially to the press reports of the detention with a brief public statement. The statement confirmed that Norbert Teufelberger was requested to attend an interview with representatives of the Belgium Gambling Commission. The statement added, “He complied voluntarily with this request and is co-operating fully with the authorities.” Further details would be issued by Bwin.Party in due course.

Later Bwin.Party released a more detailed statement which averred that the company “is acting and has always acted in compliance with applicable laws”. Referring to the interview, the statement revealed that it had lasted for two hours, after which Teufelberger left Belgium as originally planned. The company will keep up the on-going dialogue with the Belgium Gambling Commission. Norbert Teufelberger, along with co-chief executive officer Jim Ryan, released an independent statement. They pointed out that they have been spearheading regulatory change in Europe for several years. Bwin.Party is licensed to operate in major European online gambling jurisdictions like Gibraltar, Alderney, Denmark, France, Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, Italy and Spain. The statement concluded, “We continue to strive for a regulatory framework in European Member States that is compliant with EU law.”

One of the first reactions to this incident came from Financial Times reporter Jonathan Guthrie. In his article he lambasted the European Union for its lack of initiative in creating a single EU market for online gambling. He criticized Belgium’s protectionist model and said that if no action was taken by the EU then other member states could follow suit. He swept aside the moral objections of some national politicians and also the desire of other politicians to protect state-owned operators from online private sector competitors. Guthrie pointed out that the EC has appeared inactive against infringement cases for several years. Though, last month it proposed to reactivate nine cases against member states and to investigate 20 more. It was better late than never. The problem, according Guthrie is restricting the availability of regulated online wagering to EU citizens. This will only encourage the growth of unregulated online gambling sites.

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