On Thursday, Gaming in Holland organized a well-attended meeting to discuss the impact of the recent Dutch Lower House elections on the ongoing attempts at gambling reform in the country. Five panelists: Bert Bakker, former MP and Senior Consultant at at Meines, Holla & Partners; Justin Franssen, gaming lawyer at Kalff Katz & Franssen; Sanne Muijser, General Secretary at VAN; Eric van Vondelen, independent gaming advisor; and Rutger-Jan Hebben, Director at Speel Verantwoord (via Skype) shared their insights with the audience.
Where we stand
At present, two bills, the remote gaming bill and the casino reform bill, have passed the Dutch Lower House and are now awaiting confirmation by the Senate. The first of these would legalize and regulate online gaming in the country, while the second bill would arrange for the privatization of state-owned Holland Casino and the liberalization of the land-based casino market. Will these bills continue to move forward or are we going back to square one?
The Senate’s move
On short notice, possibly on April 4, the Senate will vote whether to declare any of the bills that are currently pending in the Upper Chamber “controversial.” Bills that are declared controversial will be sent back the Lower House awaiting the formation of a new government, after which time such bills will be either withdrawn or, at the very least, significantly amended.
If the Senate does not declare either gambling bill to be controversial, discussion on these bills will continue normally.
“The Dutch Senate tends to exercise restraint in declaring bills controversial,” Rutger-Jan Hebben reassured the audience. “Moreover, there is still a majority in the Senate, as well as in the newly-elected Lower House, for gambling reform. Yet, even if discussion on the bills proceeds normally, I would be somewhat surprised if the Senate would manage to vote on these bills before summer recess.”
“I am reasonably confident that the Senate will not declare these bills controversial. If everything goes smoothly – admittedly, a big if – the Senate could still vote on these proposals before the summer,” Bert Bakker added, “in which case the first online gaming licenses will likely be issued in the course of 2018.”
An entirely different bill?
“However,” Bakker continued, “If the Christian Democrats (CDA), whose participation is necessary for any viable government coalition, insist on involving gambling reform in a new coalition agreement, we will be faced with, aside from significant additional delays, a drastically amended bill.”
“Politically speaking, gambling reform is not a terribly important subject,” Eric van Vondelen said, “But CDA is so strongly opposed that it could be hard for them to accept letting the current bills move forward.”
“Because, in the grand scheme of things, these bills are relatively unimportant, other parties might fold fairly quickly on this subject to placate CDA,” Sanne Muijser warned. “Especially if a second Christian party ends up being necessary necessary to achieve a government majority in the Lower House, we will see an entirely different bill.”
Secondary legislation and the attractiveness of the Dutch market
“To preserve some sort of tempo, it would be wise if the Department of Security and Justice would start the announced consultation on the secondary legislation of the remote gaming bill as soon as possible; before the summer, in any case,” Justin Franssen said.
“The Department has proved generally willing to listen to industry input and critique. This is a good thing, especially as operators are getting pickier in choosing which markets to enter. If rules and regulations are too burdensome, they simply will not come. Still, I expect all Dutch operators to apply for an online license regardless of the eventual attractiveness of the market.”
“The ongoing delay in gambling reform makes innovation all but impossible, also with regard to oversight and prevention,” Muijser warned.
“Further delays are particularly bad for players,” Bakker added. “At present, players are completely dependent on either foreign regulation or the benevolence of operators. I have never quite understood why politicians seem to be OK with such a situation.”
“Players are getting increasingly used to a wholly unregulated offering,” Franssen said. “The longer you wait, the harder it will get to channel such players toward licensed operators. Other countries, such as Denmark, Portugal, and – for the most part – the Czech Republic have managed to introduce sensible gaming reform. Why can’t we?”