UPDATE 1-Bwin.party strikes Belgium gambling licence deal

Fri Dec 14, 2012 2:59am EST

LONDON Dec 14 (Reuters) - Online gambling firm bwin.party digital entertainment has struck a deal to operate in Belgium just a few weeks after its co-CEO was quizzed by Belgian authorities over the company's activities in the country.

Britain's bwin said on Friday that it had agreed a partnership with Belcasinos, a unit of Belgian land-based casino owner Groupe Partouche.

The deal gives bwin access to Belgian licences, as Belcasinos is eligible to apply for a licence to operate online poker and casino in the country, while Partouche expects to win an online sports betting licence.

Belgian rules state that a company must offer the same services both online and offline to obtain a licence. Opponents say that favours companies based in Belgium and means pure online providers cannot operate.

Bwin has had access to three of its websites blocked in Belgium this year, which the company had said was costing it 700,000 euros ($916,000) a month in revenue.

Last month, the dispute escalated when co-CEO Norbert Teufelberger was summoned for questioning by Belgian authorities, with the Belgium Gambling Commission saying bwin was in breach of its legislation.

Bwin said on Friday that following the Belcasinos deal the Commission had agreed to drop pending legal disputes and had begun to remove bwin's websites from its blacklist.

"Following recent developments in Belgium and after further dialogue with the local regulator, we have put our differences of opinion behind us and are now focused on the immediate commercial opportunity," said Teufelberger and co-CEO Jim Ryan.

Bwin did not provide commercial terms of the Belcasinos agreement, but said it was in line with similar deals elsewhere.

Online betting firms are struggling with murky regulation in Europe, with different European Union countries operating different rules that the companies say are often unclear or unfair.

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