Bouchez’s Alleged Connections to the Gambling Sector, Revisited

Last month, a complex investigation into alleged ties between Belgium’s Mouvement Reformateur party leader, Georges-Louis Bouchez, and the gambling industry sparked a lot of controversy in the country’s Dutch-speaking media. 

Humo, a newspaper in Belgium, reported that a number of MPs in the Federal Parliament had expressed concerns regarding Bouchez’s alleged links to important gambling lobbies. 

The latter has been subject to more stringent laws since 2022

The news story was rapidly taken down after it reached the French-speaking press via the Moustique magazine through its online platform just a couple of weeks after the original publication in Dutch media.

Bouchez Being An Advocate for Gambling Lobbying, “Nothing New”

According to Humo reports, the French-speaking liberal reportedly directed the party’s policy to considerably favor gambling lobbies

Allegedly, one way of doing this was by securing a series of exemptions on advertising bans related to amateur sports clubs

The list of clubs included Les Francs Borains de Bossu, which is a soccer club led by Bouchez from the position of president.

According to Écolo party’s leader, Gilles Vanden Burre, in an interview for The Brussels Times, the fact that Bouchez advocates for gambling lobbying objectives is not fresh news. 

Vanden Burre explained that the topic has been discussed in the Federal Parliament “for years now,” adding that the Moustique story “was just a translation of Humo’s important work” that “was published in the morning and taken down in the afternoon.”

Vanden Burren also called the matter “a question of governance,” emphasizing that the power exercised by lobbying groups represents a “major concern for the political decision-making process in a democracy.”

Alleged Influence on Opposition to the Gambling Industry’s Regulation

According to testimonies from political figures that Humo had collected during its investigation, Bouchez has had an alleged individual influence on MR’s opposition to the regulation of the gambling sector.

In the context of gambling significantly rising in popularity in Belgium in recent years, in parallel with the growing concerns regarding the social consequences of gambling addiction and gambling harm, lawmakers tried to regulate the industry. 

In the spring of 2022, former justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) issued a royal decree that would have put a ban on advertising

MR led the fight against the respective bill.

Van Quickenborne explained that he “had the right to take that measure” on his own through the royal decree, and that “Bouchez made it a headline issue.”

MR believes these types of measures might prove to be “counterproductive” and eventually cause “a loss of control of the market.” 

The party would rather enable the industry to regulate itself. 

Vooruit party’s leader, Melissa Depraetere, explained that, during a meeting, “MR MPs admitted they had nothing to say” against their arguments, but “they had to call Bouchez again and again to ask for his consent.”

Depraetere added that the MPs returned “with their tails between their legs,” saying Bouchez, who also drives rally cars under the sponsorship of Ladbrokes, “said no.”

Former MR MP Damien Thiéry currently lobbies for the Belgian Association of Gaming Operators (BAGO), which stands for six of the biggest betting companies in the country that represent 70% of the market: Ardent, Betfirst, Kindred, Napoleon, Golden Palace, and Starcasino. 

Last week, local gambling operator Gaming1 cited fresh Nepa surveys, saying the country’s strict gambling regulations may be counter-productive, pushing more gamblers to the black market.

At the start of the year, the Flemish Expertise Center for alcohol, illegal drugs, psychoactive medication, gambling and gaming, issued a memorandum calling for changes to the current minimum gambling age from 18 to 21