Speech René Jansen, 28 september 2021
Speech by René Jansen during Gaming in Holland conference, 28 September 2021
Good morning everybody,
It’s good to see you all here today – in person, no less! I am honoured I have been given the opportunity to once again deliver the key note speech. I would like to thank Mr Willem van Oort, or Gaming in Holland, for the invitation.
The Gaming in Holland conferences are always well planned. On 22 September last year, a number of us met in person at the stunning Beurs van Berlage, when we were only just able to meet again before another period of heavy restrictions started due to COVID-19. Fortunately, the number of opportunities for gatherings like this have been expanded yet again – and let’s hope it will stay that way.
Well, 1 October is nearly upon us: the day the legal market for online gambling officially opens. On a personal note, 1 October holds some significance for me, as it means I will be exactly halfway through my term as Chairman of Ksa. Three years ago, on 1 October 2018, I started as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Kansspelautoriteit – the Netherlands Gambling Authority. At that time, if you were to have told me that the legal market for online gambling would be opening on 1 October 2021: I wouldn’t have believed you. After all, when I took office, the Senate was poised to debate the Draft Bill on Remote Gambling, the Koa Act. It was exciting from a political perspective, but fortunately the Bill was adopted. Indeed, that happened in February 2019, fairly soon after I took office.
However, it subsequently turned out that more time would be needed to get to where we are now. There was simply so much work still to be done. From the fleshing out of large chunks of secondary legislation by the Ministry, to an opinion from the Council of State and a final ‘green light’ from the House of Representatives. And – to be fair – the Ksa likewise needed more time than I initially expected. Our preparations and investments to be ready for licence applications for remote gambling and the opening of the online market were, and still remain, highly intensive and extensive. Moreover, the circumstances around COVID were not exactly helpful in all of this either. However, I certainly don’t wish to use that as an excuse. But now the time has really come. At midnight on October 1st, the first licence holders may get started.
Tomorrow, 10 licence applicants will be informed that their applications were successful, meaning that as of 1 October they are allowed to provide gambling services on the internet. I said this yesterday at the television programme Nieuwsuur – you have probably heard the news already. Of course I understand that you would like to know who they are. And I am very sympathetic – however, as always, we need to be careful. The announcement will proceed as follows: tomorrow we will be announcing to applicants if the licence has been granted through the individual digital portal on which the application was submitted. The applicants whose applications have been rejected or whose applications are still pending will then be informed. On our end of the portal, we will receive a notification once the announcement has been read. Only then will we be able to disclose who the licence holders are and through which websites and apps they will be providing their products.
I’m sure you must be thinking: 10 licences – weren’t there 29 licence applications? That means roughly only 1 in 3 were granted. And yes, that is correct, those aren’t very many yet. However, a certain degree of nuance would be appropriate here. I would like to point out that this is only the beginning of the legalisation and regulation of the online market. We are moving into a phased opening of the market. Applications are still pending and we expect to receive a significant number of new applications by April 2022. There will be operators who postponed submitting their applications in connection with the so-called ‘cooling off’ period as a result of the Postema Parliamentary motion. And there probably are operators who waited with submitting an application for the simple reason that they were not yet ready to do so.
If you were to ask me about my feelings regarding the small number of licences as of 1 October, I’d say that they were mixed. That ambivalence is mainly due to the fact that the Remote Gambling Act is intended to create a sufficiently attractive legal availability for consumers. So that consumers who want to gamble online can do so in a safe environment. And therefore no longer have to turn to illegal operators in whose case it is unclear as to whether the game is fair and whether there is sufficient attention for addiction prevention.
On the other hand – and herein lies the ambivalence: quality is more important than quantity. The Kansspelautoriteit is committed to only granting licences to applicants who truly are good enough – who well and truly meet the requirements. And, as I have previously stated on several occasions, the number of requirements is considerable. The Netherlands has put in place strict and detailed legislation that makes every effort to allow players who wish to gamble to do so in a safe environment – with a strong emphasis on the prevention of gambling addiction. Another aspect with regard to the relatively small number of licences from 1 October onwards is that this will hopefully mean that the scale of advertisements will be relatively limited.
As you are probably aware, I made several petitions in the run-up to 1 October for some restraint in that regard and for parties to adopt a responsible attitude – of course, with a view to social acceptance.
Those are some of my feelings in relation to the modest number of licences to be issued. However, Willem van Oort asked me to spend today focusing on shedding light on the lessons learnt so far in handling applications. The overarching lesson I would like to share with you today is: be very well prepared! You won’t be able to see this, but on my sheet here I’ve put a huge exclamation mark at the end of that last sentence. And for good reason. The bar is set high and we assess all elements of the licence applications very seriously – the latter can also be interpreted as stringently. I think the proof of that lies in the fact that of the 29 applicants, only 10 have actually been allowed to get started. I don’t cite the motto ‘be very well prepared’ for nothing, as we encountered a substantial number of flaws in the licence applications.
That is why I say: read the legislation and regulations, the policy rules, study the assessment scheme, attend the webinars and absorb all of the information on our website. Similarly, applicants should take into account that the various connection processes, such as for the data safe (the Controledatabank in Dutch) and for the Central Exclusion Register, Cruks, do not happen automatically and take time. It’s all about preparation time and processing time.
Another important lesson that operators must take into account is that they will always remain fully responsible – even in cases where they work with subcontractors. It would be a big mistake to think: ‘I’ve outsourced this and don’t have to worry about it anymore.’ The Ksa does business with licence applicants: not with their subcontractors. Furthermore, it is critical to provide complete transparency – particularly with regard to the reliability component.
If an operator fails do so and the Ksa discovers any dubious antecedents, then they will be close to facing a refusal. Another critical element operators should keep in mind: only submit an application if every piece of information that is requested can actually be provided. Incomplete applications will impact the processing time and can even lead to non-consideration.
We allowed a phased submission process for the first applications, because it was all new to us and the industry and a number of elements, such as the assessment scheme, were still under development. But that was a one-off gesture and we no longer do that. And I would also like to point out that, based on our experiences over the past few months: operators cannot ask the Ksa for interim or advance assessment of any submitted documents.
Finally, my last piece of advice in this context is: don’t make any public statements about a possible forthcoming licence. From a supervisory perspective, this can easily be regarded as advertisements for gambling for which no licence has yet been granted. I have no choice but to be tough on these various points, although naturally we will not lose sight of the fairness component of being ‘tough but fair’.
Those are the lessons we have learned so far and the pieces of advice I would impart to operators for future licence applications. 1 October marks the dawn of a new age in the history of gambling in the Netherlands. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a vital part of the success of the Act depends on the extent to which the Ksa succeeds in banning illegal operators. And I define success as being able to channel as many as 8 and ultimately 9 of 10 players from illegal to legitimate operators.
So how do we intend to tackle those illegal operators from now on? As you may have already heard, we have revised our penalty policy with effect from 1 October. A legitimate online gambling market means heavy fines for illegal operators. Operators with a turnover of less than 15 million euros will pay a basic fine of 600,000 euros – which can be increased in the event of any additional – aggravating – circumstances. Those could include targeting young people or the absence of information about addiction prevention.
Operators with a turnover of more than 15 million euros will receive a basic fine of 4 percent of their turnover, which we will estimate, if necessary.
We will also be applying the same aggravating circumstances to those types of fines. I don’t think I need to do the maths right now for you to understand that this new penalty policy means serious money indeed.
Moving on to the criteria for enforcement action after 1 November.
Even under the new conditions, there will still be a greater supply of illegal gambling opportunities than our capacity will be able to handle. That is why still choices will have to be made. Safe Gambling is the common thread that runs through our approach. Dutch consumers who want to gamble must be able to do so in a safe environment. This means considering our public objectives: is the gambling offering harmful to consumers, is there a risk of developing gambling addiction and are there criminal and/or illegal elements? The other leading criterion in the prioritisation of the approach to illegal operators from 1 November onwards is the size of the market share. In other words, the number of Dutch players served by an operator. It cannot be the case that where legal operators exist, at the same time illegal operators still operate with a substantial share of the Dutch market. A key pillar of our Safer Gambling mission is to ensure a fair market. We are asking a lot from licensees, such as their connection to the Central Exclusion Register, Cruks.
And we place strict requirements on the range of gambling on offer.
Betting on the first yellow or red card in a football match, for example, is not permitted in the Netherlands. Then there’s the data safe that operators are required to set up and from which they are required to report to the Ksa.
On top of all of that, there’s all the time, money and effort that goes into obtaining a licence. As such, it cannot be the case that the Dutch market includes operators who have not had to do all of that.
I therefore would like to use this stage to ask operators who may want to apply for a licence in future: please keep this in mind. I can well imagine that the operators concerned in this case will ensure that they actively exclude Dutch players while they do not yet have a licence. In terms of our enforcement policy, we will certainly not be turning a blind eye when it comes to operators who are considering submitting a licence application in future.
The price to be paid for this may be that achieving the channelling objective may take a little longer. Let me assure you that we are quite aware of the risks related to these choices. Of course, we would prefer this not to be the case, but if that’s the way it is, then we have to accept it. The Minister for Legal Protection, Sander Dekker, expressed his confidence that more intensive enforcement of the actions of operators with a major illegal market share has the potential to act as a catalyst for an accelerated transition of players to a legitimate gambling offering.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to conclude by saying that I stand here today feeling satisfied and very proud of Ksa’s staff, it’s efforts and performance.
And, as such, I’d like to end on a positive note. When it comes to Dutch gambling policy, 1 October 2021 is a historic date. The Netherlands is taking a significant step toward a legalised and regulated online gambling infrastructure. It’s been a long – very long – journey. But this marks the end of a diligent and conscientious process. I am convinced that this is the best way forward for consumers. As a regulator, we will do everything we can to provide a safe environment for all players who want to take part in gambling.
This involves tough but fair supervision of licence holders. As well as ensuring a fair market by tackling illegal operators. I would like to end by expressing my heartfelt congratulations to the companies that will be informed tomorrow that they have obtained a licence. Their achievement is no mean feat and I realise that the efforts on their part have been considerable. As such, their reward – a licence granted by the Ksa – is well deserved.
Thank you very much for your attention!