When Gaming in Holland founder Willem van Oort spoke to Gambling Insider in October, he described Dutch gaming law as being in a state of "mild chaos."
So you can imagine his surprise when the Dutch Senate finally adopted the Remote Gaming Bill this week – two and a half years after it was passed in the House of Representatives.
We caught up with the Dutch gaming analyst for his take on a "surreal experience" and an in-depth analysis of the legislation.
What's your initial reaction to the news; are you surprised?
Funnily enough, we were waiting so long for this, it is somehow a surreal experience. In my mind, I’ve seen this happen 100 times. When it happened, it was hard to believe. I’ve been too optimistic in the past and, this time, not being too optimistic worked.
It’s come with a few restrictions but everyone can be happy, including the politicians – who are hard to please.
Would you say this has gone a long way to improving the "mild chaos" we discussed before?
The guidelines are clear. There are two motions; one is around the restriction of advertising. The Kansspelautoriteit (KSA) has to define guidelines for that. We’ll have to see how that turns out. If it’s too restrictive, the industry won’t be happy and if it’s too light, politicians will have an eternal reason to keep clashing with the KSA over it.
The second issue is the cooling-off period and how that’s defined. This is crucial because, in theory, operators who play by the rules from today will be left alone, without a blackout. But they will not be able to apply for a license immediately if they have been active in the last few years. They’re in a cooling off period so won’t be in the first round of licensing. It’s a remarkable situation for a market opening.
It is acceptable but it could be a very painful delay because other parties will be able to operate without a license and not paying taxes, so it’s a slightly absurd situation. They cannot acquire new customers, either, so are keeping their market share but not gaining, while licensed operators will be able to acquire new customers, which is unusual.
Do you think licenses will be awarded within the projected timeframe, or do you expect further delays?
The KSA will start the licensing process in the middle of 2020 and that means the first license could be given out on 1 January 2021. By law, there are two dates when licenses can be given out: 1 July and 1 January. So, if the licensing process starts on 1 July, it automatically means the first license can’t become active until 1 January.
I’ve seen miracles in the last few years! But I’d be very surprised if there are more delays. With the concessions in the Senate, there’s no reason for anybody to delay further. All eyes are now on the KSA, how it implements the two motions: advertising restrictions and the cooling off period. Because, if people aren’t happy with that, they might start protesting i.e. lobbying or lawsuits.
What must Jan Suyver be making of this! The former KSA Chairman expressed his frustration at a lack of action from politicians before retiring in October. Will he be pleased his work helped lead to the adoption of the Bill or disappointed it wasn’t done just a little bit earlier?
Maybe he can look back now and say he did the work for someone else to reap the rewards. That is, for a large part, true. The groundwork has been done by a lot of people in the last few years and Jan Suyver has been a big part of that. His term was not in sync with the political process unfortunately, so his frustration was valid. But, at least now it has happened, he can rightly claim a big part of the groundwork was done under his tenancy.
Elsewhere, has there been any progress in the modernisation of the casino regime?
In the second debate that happened last Tuesday, this bill was shelved. The Senators asked why we should look at this bill and the Minister said "because the timing seems right," which was not a strong argument. So he has until summer to prepare further details and then it will likely come to a vote or the legislation could be withdrawn. It is my feeling, whatever the procedural outcome, that there is no political support for it.
The main purpose of this law was to privatise casinos, which goes back six years to the previous government. Six years ago, we were still in the aftermath of the financial crisis and Holland Casino was not very robust financially. These two things have changed. One: the financial crisis is over and the government doesn’t really need the money. Two: Holland Casino has a new CEO, is excellently managed and very profitable again.
Gaming in Holland will be holding a conference on 5-6 June in Amsterdam, where René Jansen, the KSA Chairman, will be among a list of speakers on Dutch gaming law and regulation.