Will The Netherlands Ever Get Online Gambling?

Will The Netherlands Ever Get Online Gambling?

Jan Suyver and Henk Kesler were appointed heads of the Dutch gambling regulator on the understanding that their task would be to oversee introduction of betting online. Six years later, this week, they left with the Remote Gaming Bill stagnate in the Senate.

In an exit interview on Kansspelautoriteit (KSA), the gaming authority's website, the outgoing chairman Suyver said, 'even if you are against gambling, that cannot be the reason not to arrange it, and his vice Kesler expressed dissatisfaction with politics that 'has not delivered'.

Their very official reactions clearly reflect views of the KSA as a whole, and as they walk away, frustrated, it begs the question when, if ever, will Dutch people get regulated online gambling?

'Gambling is a social phenomenon, arrange it!'

Suyver and Kesler joined the Dutch Gaming Authority in 2012, given clear direction: The Law on Remote Gaming is on the way, with the KSA, the legalisation of online gambling is on the right track.

The law was to make it possible to offer games of chance with a licence via the internet, therefore regulating the market - as has been the established strategy across Europe since the early 2000s.

With backgrounds in law, business, and some politics, both chairman and vice-chairman were ideally placed to push the bill through and manage the industry as it grew into its new, regulated state. But it never came to that. "Unfortunately we were not allowed to do what we wanted to do," said Kesler.

"For that reason I do not look back with great satisfaction. A nice organization has been set up, but politics has not delivered what we were promised at the start of the Gaming Authority in 2012: a toolbox to steer online gambling on a regulated market."

Suyver recognised that online gambling was a "complicated, ideological dossier" that had split political parties, and placed partial blame for its glacial progress with religilously inclined legislators, who did block passage of the Remote Gaming Bill through the lower house of Dutch Parliament.

"There is a wide range of insights and interests," he said. "The Christian parties have difficulty with gambling, but on other grounds this also applies to the SP."

"The consumer simply has the right to be protected. I always say: even though you are against gambling, that cannot be a reason not to arrange it. Rather, on the contrary, I would say. "

Positively, Kesler added: "I have the impression that the file now has more attention, I have also asked for it to go to the Secretary-General. The legalisation of online games of chance is also mentioned in the [government's] coalition agreement, which is a good sign."

What is the Dutch Remote Gaming Bill?

Online gambling is illegal in the Netherlands. Dutch residents cannot gamble online, lawfully. But the KSA estimates that up to one million Dutch people do participate in internet betting, and every one of them does so unprotected due to the present Gaming Act coming from 1964.

The Remote Gaming Bill, first titled by cabinet in 2014, modernises that legislation, regulating online gambling to make it easier to protect the consumer and combat illegal supply. It provides for a licensing system, and give power for sanctions to the KSA.

"The consumer deserves protection," stressed Kesler, "but politicians must give the KSA the means to do so."

After much resistance, the Dutch lower house passed the Remote Gaming Bill in July 2016. The bill was then taken up for consideration by the Senate. In May 2017, the Senate Permanent Committee of Justice and Security submitted written questions on the proposed bill to the government. As of yet, these questions remain unanswered.

As a secondary red-light, an open consultation for stakeholder input now won't conclude until November 6, with the licensing eligibility of rogue operators who have been hit with financial penalties by the KSA, among the items to be decided.

Coalition Effect

In March 2017, elections were also held for the Dutch lower house, followed in October 2017 by the swearing-in of a new government coalition. They agreed that one condition of obtaining a gaming licence in the Netherlands must be that the operator has a physical presence in the country.

How online operators can comply with this amendment is unclear; do they open an office? Does it have to be a branch, a betting shop, or just an address? The myriad issues with this condition are still being discussed at government level - at a polarised table.

Surprisingly, No Regrets

Suyver and Kesler described the circus around the Remote Gaming Bill as 'administrative balancing act', the pair having spent the past six years 'going to war in the lions' den with a toothbrush'.

The KSA has been hampered in its efforts to crack down on illegal operators, while at the same time feeling many of them don't need to be sanctioned, they just need to be licensed - another tool the KSA is missing.

However, despite the end goal not being scored, the chairman and his vice have no regrets about the six years they spent with the gaming authority.

Kesler praised the 'spirit, collegiality and the fantastic atmosphere' within the organisation and Suyver described it as a 'nice organisation with peace of mind', adding: "In the hope and expectation that the Remote Gaming Act is coming soon."

New Board

The incoming chairman of Kansspelautoriteit is Rene Jansen, formerly a director at the Dutch Healthcare Authority. His vice is Bernadette Van Buchem, who is the director of consumers at the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets. She will start on October 15.

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