On November 27, a General Consultation on gambling policy took place in the Dutch Lower House. Members of the Permanent Committee for Justice and Security questioned Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker on gambling policy, including the implementation of the Remote Gaming Act.
Context: the balance of political power
During the consultation, the room was clearly split into proponents (VVD, PVV) and opponents (CDA, SP, CU, SGP) of gambling policy modernization, with only a single political group (GL) initially on the fence, but ultimately signaling support for a fair and well-functioning gambling market.
Two major political groups, D66 and PvdA, were absent during the proceedings, indicating that they agree in broad lines with the government’s course.
In other words, the General Consultation showed strong support (ca. 95 out of 150 seats) for gambling policy modernization, including the regulation of the online gambling market.
Nonetheless, there may be a narrow majority for additional (moderate) advertising restrictions or responsible gambling measures – more on this below.
Changes to the cooling-off period?
Earlier this year, the Netherlands Gambling Authority published a provisional policy rule outlining a two-year cooling-off period for unlicensed online operators who targeted the Dutch market in the past.
Operators who were found to target the Dutch market after July 1, 2018 would thus not be able to immediately apply for a license at the moment the Remote Gaming Act was projected to come into force on July 1, 2020. The processing of remote license applications is estimated to take up to six months.
This measure was intended to create a two-tiered market, with law-abiding operators able to enter the regulated Dutch online market at least half a year earlier, i.e. on January 1, 2021, than operators who were found to have violated Dutch gambling legislation in the past.
However, due to delays in drawing up the necessary secondary legislation, the Remote Gaming Act is now expected to come into force on January 1, 2021, with the actual market opening projected to take place on July 1, 2021.
Due to this delay, some major international operators who were fined in the past and subsequently made changes to their product offering may now escape the cooling-off period and may be enter the regulated Dutch online market at the same time as other (domestic) operators, such as Holland Casino and Nederlandse Loterij.
Minister Dekker promised to raise this issue with the Netherlands Gambling Authority in order to investigate whether previously-fined operators could still face some negative consequences for their earlier actions and to preserve the two-tiered market as intended.
While it is too early to speculate at this point what the outcome of these discussion with the regulator will be, but it should be noted that there exists a widespread (if implicit) political desire to give domestic operators a leg-up in the Dutch online gambling market.
Minors and age verification; betting and advertising restrictions; loot boxes
In order to prevent minors from gambling, Minister Dekker confirmed that the identity of players must be fully verified before they are allowed to play with regulated operators.
Earlier proposed regulations offered operators a grace period to fully verify the identity of new customers. This grace period has now been scrapped, dramatically increasing the importance of instant ID verification tools.
Minister Dekker also confirmed that he would not support a full gambling advertising ban and that additional advertising restrictions would be likely to dramatically undermine the government’s player channelization goals.
Dekker furthermore disagreed with a proposal raised by Van Toorenburg (CDA) to give Dutch sports associations a veto on which of their games licensed operators could offer bets.
Last but not least, the Netherlands Gambling Authority is currently working on introducing additional restrictions on certain types of video game loot boxes.
Minister Dekker confirmed that a decision on the possible privatization of Holland Casino will be left up to a subsequent government.
Several MPs expressed a desire to create a level playing field for licensed lottery operators, including the creation of a single mandatory remittance rate.
Dekker revealed that the government has commissioned four separate research reports on the future lottery system. Two of these reports will be made public soon; the other two in the first half of 2020, at which time the government will inform the Lower House on their findings.
Next steps – continued rearguard action?
A report of the General Consultation will discussed in the near future in a plenary session of the Lower House, offering MPs the opportunity to propose additional parliamentary motions.
MP Madeleine van Toorenburg (CDA) indicated that she would use this opportunity to propose a bevy of further restrictions on future licensed gambling operators.
While it appears to some extent concerning that the attempt will be made, at present there does not seem to be a majority for the kind of draconian restrictions that Van Toorenburg and her allies would like to see introduced.
However, certain more moderate restrictions, for instance to further discourage underage gambling, may find majority support.
But perhaps the only goal at this point is to create further delays in order to discourage potential market entrants and to strengthen the position of domestic (former) monopoly operators – even if this would mean that actual problems, such those that occur in large and unregulated markets, continue to go unaddressed.