Almost two years after the Dutch draft law which proposed the regulation of online gambling was first submitted to parliament on July 23, 2014, the bill will finally be debated tonight by the Lower House, starting at 7 pm CET. If adopted, the bill would allow offshore operators to enter the online market in the country for the first time to offer sports betting and casino games.
The regulation of online gambling has been a controversial one in the country and has been met with fierce opposition from political groups and incumbent interests. The progress of the bill has been delayed in parts because of over 500 questions on the draft law that were submitted by Dutch members of parliament last year.
One of the most controversial aspects of the bill has been what tax system to implement under the new regime. A proposed two-tier tax system with different rates for land-based and online operators was later scrapped and a uniform tax rate of 29 percent on gross gaming revenue is now on the table. The amendment calling for a uniform tax rate has been jointly proposed by the ruling coalition parties and is all but certain to pass.
But remote operators have criticised a lower tax rate which currently applies to lotteries, which will also be allowed to enter the online market when the new reforms enter in force.
Lottery operators are paying effectively 8 to 10 percent on lottery revenue and the differential tax appears set to continue. In Portugal, where the online gambling market was opened in June last year, a differential tax system has prompted online firms to file a state aid case with the European Commission.
Tonight's Debate and Aftermath
Tonight's debate will only feature the initial statements by the spokespersons of the political groups represented in the Dutch Lower House, possibly accompanied by additional amendments to the bill.
The second half of the debate, including the response of State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff of Security and Justice, is now scheduled for Tuesday, June 28. The actual vote on the bill is expected to take place on July 5, just ahead of the Lower House's summer recess, which starts on July 8.
Next Step: The Senate
While the Remote Gaming Bill will almost certainly pass the Lower House, trouble could be looming in the Senate, as the ruling government coalition lacks a majority in that body. For legislation to pass, the support of at least two additional party groups is required.
At present, it is not yet clear whether sufficient support for the bill will materialize in the Senate.
What to Look For in Tonight's Debate?
Generally, the initial statements by the spokespersons will indicate quite clearly whether their respective party groups will support a bill. After tonight, it will therefore be much more obvious which opposition groups (if any) will vote for the remote gaming bill in the Lower House – and thus, subsequently, in the Senate.
Second, opposition support may be bought by additional, last-minute amendments, which could significantly impact the original intent of the bill. Likewise, opposition groups could introduce poison pill amendments to signal their hostility. Several last-minute amendments have already been proposed.
“My impression is that a clear majority in the Lower House recognizes that the regulation of online gaming is long overdue and that something needs to happen,” said noted gaming lawyer Justin Franssen. “However, there are still strong disagreements with regard to the specifics of the bill. A positive outcome of the political process is therefore not yet assured.”
“The Lower House will need some time to fully debate the bill. I cannot exactly say how much,” added MP Jeroen van Wijngaarden of ruling coalition party VVD.
Although it thus remains uncertain whether the Netherlands will finally regulate remote gaming in the near future, all the right steps are now being made. Tomorrow, we will know more.
A live stream of tonight's debate can be watched here.