The Dutch Senate approves the Remote Gambling Bill

Netherlands

On 19 February 2019, the Remote Gambling Bill was finally adopted by the Dutch Senate. This new legislation will modernise the Dutch Betting and Gaming Act and allows the offering of online games of chance to Dutch residents, provided that a licence is obtained by the operator. Previously, the Dutch gambling market was closed, meaning that no licences were granted for online games of chance. It is not yet clear when the new legislation will enter into force, also because secondary legislation still needs to be drafted as well as the licensing criteria and process. The draft licensing criteria will likely be published shortly before the summer for consultation by stakeholders. The new legislation is currently expected to come into force at the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021.

The new legislation allows for online offering of poker, casino games and fixed odds sports betting. Live sports betting and sports betting via betting exchanges are also allowed, while spread betting and betting on non-sports events are excluded. Every company that is established in an EU or EEA Member State can apply for a licence – there is no obligation to have a physical presence in the Netherlands. Licensed operators are however required to have a local representative, who is an expert in gambling addiction and prevention, based in the Netherlands. Every operator that wishes to acquire a licence will be subject to a reliability test of the Dutch Gaming Authority (DGA) – details of this test have not yet been given. Based on previous discussions of Parliament one can expect the licence application to cost approximately EUR 40,000.

Under the new regime, operators are obliged to keep a (private) player profile and monitor a player's playing behaviour and bets. The new legislation also introduces a national database of excluded players or players who have indicated that they do not want to gamble anymore, covering online operators but also land based slot machines and casino operations. Persons who will be included in the database will not be allowed to bet for a certain period. The operators are furthermore obliged to maintain a database – to which the DGA should be granted access – with actual information on the games of chance and bets offered. The new legislation does not provide the possibility for the DGA to block or filter internet traffic or websites of illegal operators. The DGA, however, has several administrative powers that enables it to issue binding instructions (e.g. an instruction to withhold services to an illegal betting operator) to payment service providers, marketing agencies and other companies that facilitate (illegal) gambling.

A key part of the legislation discussed during the consideration of the bill before the Senate was the treatment of so-called “illegal” operators. The Senate chose to introduce a so-called “blackout period” of two years during which no licence will be granted to operators who have actively and specifically been (illegally) targeting the Dutch market. This is likely to have consequences for recently sanctioned operators such as William Hill and Betsson as well as any operators who are fined for such behaviour in the future and before the new legislation comes into force. It is still uncertain when the blackout period for these fined operators will start. One could also question whether this blackout period is in accordance with EU law.

At the same time as this Bill, the Casino Reform Bill was discussed in the Senate. The Casino Reform Bill concerns the privatisation of the Dutch casino monopoly, until now operated by Holland Casino. The aim is to privatise Holland Casino and to open the land-based casino market. Holland Casino will  be split up and sold by the State. The branches will be sold separately. In addition, two licences will be granted for new branches. However, as it became apparent during the debate in the Senate that the Casino Reform Bill would not be able to secure a majority, the minister said that he would withdraw the proposed legislation and request that the current bill not be voted on. The vote has therefore been postponed while it remains unclear whether it will ever be taken up – further discussions about the Bill are expected to take place later this year.

As said, many key elements of the new legislation will still need to be worked out in greater detail through secondary regulations. Both the Lower House and Senate have to be consulted on the secondary legislation. The DGA will draft the licensing procedure and conditions and conduct a public consultation in relation thereto. The chairman of the DGA recently stated that a public consultation on the regulator’s licensing process for online operators can be expected to start before the summer of 2019. Meanwhile, the DGA has already announced that it will continue to take enforcement actions against illegal operators until the new legislation comes into force. Especially in light of the blackout period, operators are strongly recommended to refrain from targeting the Dutch market until they have acquired a licence.