Belgian postal company bpost has sold retail network Ubiway Retail to the gambling company Golden Palace, a press release reported.
The includes Press Shops, Hubiz, Uni and Relay stores, VRT reports, for a total of around 170 of the newspaper stores.
“The activities of Ubiway Retail were no longer core activities in bpost's strategy,” the press release explained. “Bpost Group is focusing on accelerating its transformation into an international player in e-commerce logistics.”
The transaction will be completed next month but is already facing criticism because the buyer is a gambling company.
Concerns about the involvement of gambling company
“Gambling addiction is a public health problem that requires special attention,” tweeted Pedro Falcon – Commissioner for Covid-19 and formerly director-general at the FPS Public Health.
“I hope this element will be weighed in the sale of the newsagents of bpost to a gambling company that wants to generate additional sales channels by [the purchase].”
Gokverslaving is een volksgezondheidsprobleem dat bijzondere aandacht vereist. Ik hoop dat dit element mee gewogen wordt bij de verkoop van de krantenwinkels van @bpost_nl aan een gokbedrijf dat daarmee extra verkoopskanalen wil genereren. https://t.co/Razr52FNMR— Pedro Facon (@PedroFacon) January 26, 2022
Professor of psychiatry Frieda Matthys (VUB), who is a member of Belgium’s gaming commission, thinks the possibilities of gambling in newsagents should be limited by new legislation.
“There is a limit on the number of gambling offices and the number of casinos, but not on newspaper stores,” Matthijs said. “If they get at least 50% of revenue from newspapers and magazines, newspaper stores are allowed to offer betting.”
Matthijs pointed out that newsagents are far more accessible than other venues and do not have the same restrictions as casinos, which can bar some gamblers.
A hasty decision
Economist Geert Noels told Radio 1 that he was surprised by the speed with which the decision was reached.
“I never thought that one would decide this so quickly without the government, politics and the board of directors having serious questions about it,” Noels said, alleging that gambling company Golden Palace was looking to “circumvent government regulation through a purchase of an asset from the government,” in the form of the 170 retail stores.
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Even Belgium’s Minister of Public Enterprises, Petra De Sutter (Green), voiced her disapproval: “Bpost is an autonomous public company and this was decided by their board of directors... from an ethical point of view that tastes sour,” De Sutter said. She regretted the sale, saying it runs contrary "to the government's objective of tackling gambling addictions.”
Lotto products already sold in Press Shops and some Relay stores
Noels pointed out that there are government representatives on the board of bpost, and they do have authority, but scratch cards and Lotto products are already being sold in some of the chain retail stores.
“If you allow a back door to open, eventually it becomes a front door,” says Noels.