Nervy Weeks Ahead For Would-Be Dutch Licensees

April 11, 2022
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At least 30 operators are hoping to join the Dutch online gambling market in the coming weeks, as numerous cooling-off periods end, but the regulator has warned as many as two thirds could be rejected.

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At least 30 operators are hoping to join the Dutch online gambling market in the coming weeks, as numerous cooling-off periods end, but the regulator has warned as many as two thirds could be rejected.

The chairman of the Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA) has said that 16 licence applications are currently being reviewed, with 14 more having been filed right at the end of March.

Many of Europe’s most well known gambling operators have been shut out of the Netherlands for months waiting for their cooling-off periods to expire, as recompense for targeting the market before new legislation came into force.

But KSA boss Rene Jansen warned that so far only one out of three licence applications have been approved on average, so not all those who have applied in this group should expect to be granted entry.

Jansen was speaking on Friday (April 8) at an event organised by Dutch gambling law specialists Kalff Katz & Franssen.

Much of his presentation, and almost every question posed to him from an audience of Dutch operators, concerned the recent furor over gambling advertising.

The Netherlands has experienced an accelerated version of the developing public distaste for gambling marketing that has bubbled up across Europe during the past few years.

Mere months since the October 2021 launch of the licensed online market, parliament is pushing the government to introduce tougher rules because of what politicians say are an excessive volume of advertisements.

The industry recently rolled out a self-regulatory code that limits online ads on TV to between 10pm and 6am, among other measures, in an effort to forestall legislative action.

But gambling minister Frank Weerwind has already said he is preparing a decree with new restrictions, including a ban on the use of sports people and other “role models”, which could be in effect before June.

On Friday, Jansen recalled his frequent calls for marketing restraint on the part of gambling operators in the months before the market opened.

“We can now conclude that any such restraint was sadly lacking,” he said.

However, he suggested that although the KSA will continue to move against ads that breach rules around content, the fact that the Gambling Act places no limits on the number of advertisements makes that a problem for politicians, not regulators.

Also speaking at the same event, Fedor Meerts, department head for integrity and gambling at the Ministry of Justice and Security, said he is impressed by the depth of the industry’s self-regulatory code.

But he warned that the cross-sector cooperation that birthed it may be too tardy to ward off a political backlash.

“I’ve seen a very constructive dialogue these three months, but that may have come a bit too late,” he said.

Private operators speaking up from the audience during a question-and-answer session were upset about the outsized role they see state-owned Toto and Holland Casino playing in fostering public discontent with the number of gambling ads.

Jansen and Meerts said only that the state-owned operators are treated exactly the same as the rest of the market, so far as regulation and the law are concerned.

On a more positive note, both officials said they were happy with the rate of channelisation.

Although figures are still tentative, less than a year since the market launched, Jansen and Meerts said they have seen evidence that players are generally staying away from the black market and are choosing to play with licensed operators.

That has been helped by the surprise decision to require cooling-off operators waiting to enter the market to fully block all players from the Netherlands, since October. The industry had assumed it would still be allowed to passively accept Dutch customers without jeopardising a future licence application.

That blackout looks to be having an effect on at least some of those still waiting on the sidelines.

In financial results released on Friday, Kindred estimated that its Dutch exit has cost it £25m EBITDA in the first quarter. Overall revenue dropped 30 percent and underlying EBITDA fell more than 75 percent, compared with Q1 2021.

After the update was released on Friday afternoon, shares in the company on the Stockholm stock exchange plummeted by more than 13 percent.

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