Curaçao Trying Again To Reform Controversial Licensing System

November 5, 2021
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Under pressure from the Dutch government, Curaçao is preparing a second attempt at reform of its decades-old, much-criticised gambling legislation, VIXIO GamblingCompliance has learned.

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Under pressure from the Dutch government, Curaçao is preparing a second attempt at reform of its decades-old, much-criticised gambling legislation, VIXIO GamblingCompliance has learned.

Financial support for Dutch-controlled Curaçao is partly conditional on reform of its online gambling industry, according to a spokesperson for Netherlands justice minister Sander Dekker.

The conditions follow years of urging Curaçao to reform online gambling legislation that dates to 1993, the dawn of the World Wide Web.

The Netherlands’ conditions are:

  • Establishing an independent supervisor for online gambling with the ability to issue and revoke licences.
  • Ensuring that Curaçao licensees “act in accordance with the laws and regulations of the countries they target”.
  • Measures to collect taxes and licensing fees.

Curaçao’s government has so far missed two deadlines this year as part of an agreement that should enable further Dutch loan assistance to the Caribbean country, whose tourist-centric economy has been pummelled by COVID-19.

It was meant to have had the regulator in place by March 2021 and the laws ensuring compliance with other countries’ laws by September.

But Curaçao’s first draft law was criticised in a May report by the Social Economic Council (SER), which essentially said lawmakers should start over.

The draft proposal’s estimates of 115m Netherlands Antilles guilders (€55.3m) in tax income in the first year of adoption and 215m in the second were “unrealistic, insufficiently substantiated, and in fact a shot in the dark”, according to the council.

Not factored in was that changing laws would open the government to “foreseeable claims” from the master licensees, who would be losing 120,000 guilders in income a month, the SER said.

Despite the popularity of Curaçao as a residence for online gambling operators, it “is not always taken seriously by everyone because it does not satisfactorily meet important preconditions such as effective government supervision, internationally acceptable standards, [it lacks] efficient communication with the market and opportunities for effective banking”, according to the SER.

Curaçao’s Ministry of Finance would not answer questions on how flaws in the current system would be addressed in any new legislation.

In an email, a ministry spokeswoman said because a new draft of the law is currently circulating for comments, “it is not prudent at this time to comment on its contents as it is not yet finalised”.

“The final draft will be publicly available soon,” she said.

An ill-defined master licensee and sub-licensee system has been an irritant to regulators in Europe and elsewhere for years, as hundreds of Curaçao sub-licensees inhabit blacklists in countries including Poland, Sweden and Greece.

Websites on so-called blacklists are targeted by regulators who can require internet service providers to shut them down or payments processors to cut them off.

Curaçao’s government currently exercises little or no oversight over the operators with the sub-licences issued by the master licensees, as the Curaçao Gaming Control Board currently only supervises land-based casinos and anti-money laundering controls.

In December 2018, the agency was told by the finance ministry that it would be appointed to supervise online gambling, but that has yet to happen.

Efforts to reform Curaçao gambling laws date to at least 2007, when officials were hoping to be included in what was then the UK’s “white-listing” system, by which licensees from regions such as Gibraltar were allowed to advertise in the UK.

That UK system was ended by statute in 2014 and any gambling company operating in the UK now needs a licence from the Gambling Commission.

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