European Blocklists Continue Rapid Growth As Spotlight Shines On Curaçao

January 19, 2022
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The number of blocklisted online gambling domains across 18 reporting European countries, as monitored by VIXIO GamblingCompliance, increased by 55 percent to more than 150,000 in 2021.

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The number of blocklisted online gambling domains across 18 reporting European countries, as monitored by VIXIO GamblingCompliance, increased by 55 percent to more than 150,000 in 2021.

The total number of visible blocklisted web addresses (URLs) across Europe equalled 155,284 as of December 31, 2021, constituting a year-on-year rise of 57 percent, or 54,780 in absolute terms.

Growth in blocked domains last year, as tracked by VIXIO GamblingCompliance’s Blocklist Monitoring Tracker, settled broadly in line with the expansion of 54 percent, or 34,916 sites, in 2020.

Blocklists dictate the unlicensed domain names that must be blocked by internet service providers (ISPs) and, in some cases payment processors, in each jurisdiction, which will typically maintain its own local licensing regime for online gambling.

Websites targeted under-enforcement of this nature will be deemed to provide prohibited or non-locally-licensed gambling services to customers in the jurisdiction in question or, in some cases, publish promotions for such services under an affiliate model.

Blacklist Online Gambling URLs by Country

Turkey once again accounted for the bulk of growth observed across the 18 reporting European jurisdictions, with just over 45,000 new domains being added in 2021 compared with 24,750 in the previous year.

The Turkish blocklist, as tracked by civic initiative EngelliWeb, has expanded exponentially since its inception in 2016, having surpassed the 100,000 mark in the second half of last year amid an ongoing national crackdown against the illegal online sector.

The true number of unique operators that are blocked in Turkey is significantly lower than this headline total, with the most heavily targeted brands now associated with hundreds of unique blocked sites.

Blacklist Online Gambling URLs by Country ex-Turkey

Excluding Turkey, the reported number of blocked domains in Europe increased by 20 percent or 9,372 year-on-year, down slightly on equivalent growth of 25 percent or 9,995 in 2020.

Poland’s blocklist, the largest among this group, totalled 17,579 domains at the end of the year, with new additions having increased by 3.6 percent year-on-year to 4,612 websites in 2021.

A generally steady year in terms of overall blocklist growth was more notable in terms of a significant increase in the number of affiliate domains blocked by Poland’s Ministry of Finance, with such sites accounting for approximately 20 percent or 939 of additions in 2021.

The Polish branch of the United Nations Global Compact last summer called for an end to the provision of payment services by Polish financial institutions to unlicensed operators, a practice which has persisted in spite of the regulator’s aggressive stance towards website blocking.

The number of blocked affiliate domains in Poland has overtaken the equivalent total in Italy, where website blocking as a whole has slowed significantly since the onset of COVID-19. Fewer than 500 new additions were made by Italian gambling regulator, the ADM, over the course of 2020 and 2021, following on from the full enforcement of the country’s gambling advertising ban in 2019.

Cyprus, which oversees the third-largest blocklist in Europe, blocked 2,072 new domains to take its total to 16,540 at the end of 2021, representing a 17.7 percent year-on-year decrease in blocklist additions when set against a particularly active 2020.

Half of the 18 jurisdictions tracked by VIXIO GamblingCompliance blocked more new websites in 2021 than in 2020.

Regulators in the Czech Republic and Belgium significantly ramped up enforcement, adding 327 new sites compared with a mere 25 between them in 2020. Sweden’s blocklist, which debuted in December 2019, conversely decelerated in growth, with 22 new additions in the first half of the year and just three in the second half to end 2021 at 117 in total.

YoY Change in New Blacklist Additions by Country

Curaçao-based online gambling companies continue to feature heavily in the blocklists maintained by regulators across Europe, with nearly 40 percent of all blocklisted companies across 20 countries traceable to an address on the Caribbean island, according to VIXIO GamblingCompliance data.

Curaçao’s light degree of regulatory scrutiny and supervision, low cost of licences, set at €25,000, and the status of the territory as an offshore financial centre, currently make Curaçao an attractive base of operations for online betting and gaming companies.

Fresh attempts by the Curaçao government to reform its gambling regulation may soon shine a light on the historically opaque offshore-facing market, with a proposal to set up an official registry of existing licensees and their websites having been tabled at the end of last year.

Curaçao-licensed operators also dominate the nascent online gambling blocklist maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which began issuing banning orders to ISPs for affiliate sites in August 2021. After an initial ban of seven affiliate sites, the Australian regulator blocked a further 15 such sites over the remainder of the year.

Ahead of the planned launch of a new independent gambling regulator in Austria, local reports last year suggested that, as subsequently recommended in a report paid for by state-backed Casinos Austria, the new body will be handed ISP blocking powers in order to push unlicensed firms out of the market.

The Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA) last year announced that it is monitoring the activities of 25 websites as part of a new enforcement approach that requires all unlicensed operators to block Dutch customers, although the regulator does not have the authority to block websites as part of the country’s newly-launched online framework.

In September 2021, the Norwegian Ministry of Culture sent for consultation a legislative proposal to give the Norwegian gambling regulator power to order ISPs to implement a domain name system (DNS) blocking websites offering illegal gambling.

Outside Europe, Cambodia’s communications watchdog revealed in November 2021 that 79 illegal websites had been blocked as part of a crackdown on the country’s previously burgeoning online gambling sector set into motion in September 2019.

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