Last-minute policy U-turn
Only 10 days before the opening of the Dutch regulated market, the Netherlands Gambling Authority announced a set of new measures to force yet unlicensed operators to shut down their offering to Dutch consumers. Starting 1 November, 2021, the Netherlands Gambling Authority will implement new prioritisation criteria for deciding whether to take enforcement action against a specific operator. This decision will (generally) be based on the following four criteria:
Specifically, this means online operators with a large customer base in the Netherlands will henceforth be first in line for enforcement action. The Dutch regulator also announced higher, more impactful fines, starting at 4% of turnover achieved in the Netherlands. This new enforcement policy was drawn up in response to the new enforcement directive sent by Minister Sander Dekker for Legal Protection to the Dutch Lower House a week prior, the aim of which was to force existing Dutch online players to switch to legal alternatives available from 1 October. Dekker’s enforcement directive represented a sudden and unexpected break with previous policy, which prioritised eventual market channelisation (to which operators currently subject to the cooling-off period were expected to eventually contribute) over providing immediate market exclusivity to fully licensed operators.
Temporary market departures
As a result of the Netherlands Gambling Authority’s new enforcement policy, major international operators that were found to have illegally targeted the Dutch market in the past, such as Kindred Group, Betsson, Entain and LeoVegas, announced their temporary withdrawal from the Dutch market; not to jeopardise their prospects of a future remote licence.
For some of these operators, the decision to temporarily withdraw will have a major short-term financial impact. In a conference call to investors, Kindred announced that barring Dutch customers from its offer would negatively impact EBITDA by approximately £12m ($16.2m) each month, or, in other words, c. 50% of group EBITDA (2020). Betsson is estimated to take a lesser but still very significant 27% hit to total operating income.
Meanwhile, on 29 September, the Netherlands Gambling Authority announced the first10 remote licensees (out of a total of 29 initial applications).
The following 10 companies were the first to be awarded an online licence:
Notable first-round absences:
Technical outages and launch delays
As the regulated online market opened on Friday 1 October, the Dutch national player exclusion register (CRUKS) experienced a series of malfunctions, making it impossible for new players to register and already registered players to log on with licensed operators. These problems persisted throughout the weekend, causing several newly licensed operators to postpone their launch until the subsequent Monday.
On Saturday 2 October, only TOTO Casino, BetCity.nl, and GGPoker managed to open their (virtual) doors. Holland Casino, Fair Play Online, and Batavia Casino (Play North) only launched on Monday 4 October. The remaining licensees, Bet365, Bingoal, LiveScore Bet, and Tombola were expected to open by the middle of October.
Future advertising woes?
Just two weeks before the regulated Dutch online market opened, five Dutch incumbent gambling operators (Holland Casino, Janshen-Hahnraths Group, JVH gaming, Nederlandse Loterij, and ZEbet) founded a new online trade association, Vergunde Nederlandse Online Kansspelaanbieders (“Licensed Dutch Online Gaming Operators” – VNLOK).
VNLOK’s first public initiative was the launch of a new voluntary advertising code, the Reclamecode Kansspelen (“Advertising Code Games of Chance”), which was supposed to enter into force on 1 October. However, these hopes were dashed when leading Dutch consumer protection organization Consumentenbond blocked the proposals, claiming that the protections offered by the new advertising code were “far too weak” and hardly (if at all) exceeding the legally mandated minimum.
Consumentenbond further claimed that VNLOK showed little inclination to compromise and further threatened to lobby for a total online gambling advertising ban, if its demands for additional restrictions were not met. Meanwhile, the CEOs of 14 prominent charity organisations (and charity lottery beneficiaries) published an open letter in a Dutch national newspaper, warning that any future gambling advertising restrictions (which they deem unavoidable) should not impact the Dutch lottery sector.
Based on experiences from other European jurisdictions that instituted (near) total advertising bans, we know that such advertising restrictions primarily benefit incumbent operators. Despite their apparent failure to introduce a sector-wide advertising code, the major Dutch land-based incumbents will thus not be terribly inconvenienced by further advertising restrictions – especially now that most of their international competitors will at least be temporarily out of the way.
While, for now, it still remains to be seen whether further (online) gambling advertising restrictions will eventually be introduced, there already exists significant social pressure to do so. It is not inconceivable that incumbent operators will add to this pressure. Especially if their land-based brands, which after all feature the same names and trademarks as their online channels, will be excluded from any such new advertising restrictions. Depending on one’s perspective, these recent developments might make the Dutch online market either a bit more or a bit less competitive. In any case, “never a dull moment,” as the saying goes, when it comes to gambling in the Netherlands.
About Gaming in Holland
Founded in 2011, Gaming in Holland is the leading B2B community for the gambling and lottery sectors in the Netherlands. With over 3,000 members, Gaming in Holland offers newsletters, print magazines, webinars, and live events to local and international audiences who are interested in the regulated Dutch online gambling market. Next year, on April 4-5, 2022, the first Gaming in Holland Expo, a Netherlands-focused trade show and product exhibition, will take place simultaneously with the annual Gaming in Holland Conference.