Keynote speech by René Jansen during the Annual Gaming Industry Event, organised by Kalff Katz & Franssen and the International Masters of Gaming Law (IMGL). 31 January 2020.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank Justin, Alan, Marc and of course the organisers Kalff Katz & Franssen and the International Masters of Gaming Law (IMGL), for the invitation to deliver the keynote speech today. It has become a tradition for the Kansspelautoriteit, the Ksa, to contribute to this annual conference. Last year was the first time I attended; at that time, I'd only been Chair of the Ksa for four months.
On the 1st of February 2019, to be precise, we were watching with mild nervousness how the Senate would deal with the Remote Gambling Bill (Koa), the proposed law that would legalise online gambling and impose far more stringent requirements around gambling addiction prevention. The bill was passed into law around two weeks later, on the 19th of February.
As a regulator, we were pleased for two reasons: first, that online gambling was being legalised and regulated, and second, that the requirements around gambling addiction prevention – for all short-odds games, both land based and online – were being given a firm legal basis. We were pleased because both of these aspects of the new Act are in the interests of consumers. And, as you know, as a regulator our first duty is to serve consumers’ interests.
We are confronted with the risks inherent in gambling every day. At the Ksa, we subscribe to a digital press clipping service, which compiles all gambling-related news stories. We regularly see stories about people whose lives have been destroyed by a gambling addiction. Sometimes it’s major news, such as when someone has committed large-scale fraud to feed his or hers gambling addiction, or when a treasurer has embezzled funds from a sports or tenants’ association and used them for gambling. In most cases, the stories are not major news items, but they still represent distressing cases of personal suffering. And, because compulsive gamblers nearly always have a massive impact on those close to them, this addiction can destroy families.
As I said earlier, in a regulated market – whether online or land based – we are in a better position to protect consumers than in an illegal market, particularly if there are strict requirements around addiction prevention. This is now the case under the Remote Gambling Act. Although the Act does more than just legalise online gambling, it makes sense that this aspect has attracted the most attention.
The Act passed not a moment too soon: according to estimates, at least one million Dutch citizens are already participating in online gambling. So the consumer demand is there, and it’s not going away. Our view is that, even if you don’t approve of gambling, either land based or online, it’s a fact of life and it’s easier to control it through a well-regulated market.
The target date for the Remote Gambling Act to take effect is now the 1st of January 2021. One of the important elements in our new Act is the introduction of a Central Exclusion Register, Cruks, that will come into operation on that same date, the 1st of January next year. This is a register that operators of short-odds gambling must refer to before allowing a person to play. If someone is listed in the register, the operator cannot allow the person in question to play. Starting in the middle of this year, we will be inviting parties to test the register, taking into account the fact that the land-based sector must be ready by the 1st of January. As Executive Board of the Ksa, we have decided yesterday to formally start the public tendering procedure for the future operational management of this register. The register is being developed by the Ksa, but once it’s up and running, the register will be operated by an external market party. The external party will be found through the formal European tendering procedure. The subject of the call for tenders will be the operational management of Cruks, the exclusion register. We expect to award the contract to the selected market party in May. Later on this year – before summer – we will start information meetings and technical tests with land based operators. Followed by information meetings and tests with online operators in autumn.
The first licence applications can be submitted from the 1st of January next year on. Six months later, the online market will be open for the first group of operators who qualify for a licence. I suspect that some of you in this room would like to know how the ‘cooling down period’ referred to in the Postema parliamentary motion will work. This resolution was passed at the same time as the Remote Gambling Act and calls for the licensing of only those parties that have abstained from actively and specifically targeting the Dutch market for at least two years prior to their licence application. This specific targeting of Dutch consumers means – as you will already be aware, but it’s worth repeating – the online offering is geared towards Dutch consumers, through the language, advertising, symbols or payment methods used. And since the 1st of January 2020, there is now also an explicit requirement of a visible, conclusive age verification system. A safeguard to keep minors out.
With regard to the cooling down period: I can’t tell you anything new at this moment; we have not yet met with the minister on this issue. We will come back to it at a later moment.
I have previously warned that the licensing procedure should not be taken lightly, and I repeat that warning today. As you all know, gambling is a controversial subject in the Netherlands. In fact, I would say that it is more controversial in the Netherlands than in many other countries, based on impressions from talking to fellow regulators and other stakeholders abroad. There’s a good reason that it has taken so long for government and Parliament to legalise online gambling. A number of groups in politics and society object to gambling. The likely result is that, as the online market becomes more open, every aspect will be subject to critical scrutiny, from advertising, to addiction prevention to the participation of minors.
This critical gaze will be focused on both operators and the Ksa. Is the regulator playing a sufficiently active role; is it keeping its eye on the ball? Are licences being issued appropriately? Is the regulator cracking down on the remaining illegal operators?
But the critical gaze will primarily be focused on you, on the operators of online gambling sites and thus indirectly on their advisors. Will licensees, intervene when necessary, such as in cases of excessive playing behaviour? Are they doing enough to prevent gambling addiction? Do they have an absolute ban on participation by minors? Are they engaging in excessive advertising?
Of course, it goes without saying that you should comply with laws and regulations. However, there is also such a thing as taking responsibility. Taking responsibility goes beyond being compliant to legislation!
Let me share a few examples with you to illustrate how this is far from being the norm in all European markets. The first example is one from Spain. Recently I have read an article on the online platform Vice about a kind of gambling addiction epidemic in Spain that appeared to have arisen among teenagers. According to a study by the Spanish Institute of Psychologists, 1 in 5 children between the ages of 14 and 21 has a gambling addiction in some degree. In the past five years, the number of betting shops in Madrid has increased by as much as 300% – and they are primarily being established in the poorer neighbourhoods in the Spanish capital. Many betting shops have opened close to secondary schools.
The second example concerns Italy, where a ban has been imposed on advertising for online gambling, because the country had been inundated with gambling advertisements.
Third. Belgium, too, has witnessed a proliferation of betting shops and advertising. Belgian legislators have had to intervene, reducing the number of betting shops and restricting advertising.
And the fourth, and last example: In the UK, Claire Murdoch, Mental Health Director for the National Health Service, recently called on gambling operators to immediately stop exploiting gambling addicts. Ms Murdoch described the operators’ actions as 'cynical beyond belief'. For example, they offered their vulnerable customers free trips to race courses – where, naturally, they could not resist the temptation to place a bet. And gambling operators are buying TV rights for football matches; the match can then only be shown if you have placed a bet.
I am therefore making this appeal: let’s all make sure these sorts of practices never occur in the Netherlands! Legislators in our country should not be forced to take action to put in place additional measures or measures to restore the status quo. The focus of our contribution as national regulator is to provide strict but fair oversight.
But we also consider it our task to give guidance to the market if necessary. We will – as far as possible - certainly not confine ourselves to telling operators what they shouldn’t do. After the opening of the online market, it’s important that we not lose sight of the objective of the Remote Gambling Act: to achieve channelling of 80% within three years.
This means that 8 out of every 10 online gamblers should be using a legal operator, a regular licensee. For us, the challenge is giving operators enough space to create an attractive legal offering that is appealing to consumers who want to play anyhow. Research has shown that consumers prefer to play through a legal operator – in a safe, protected environment. This will give licence holders a certain natural advantage over their illegal competitors. But, of course, there are limits to this advantage. The legal offering must be sufficiently attractive.
For the Ksa, besides giving operators sufficient space, we also need to crack down on the remaining illegal supply. I can promise you that we will take this task seriously. I’ve referred to the importance of having an attractive legal online market supply. This comes with something I would like to strongly emphasize again: a primarily safe and responsible offer. 'Responsible gambling' must not be merely a PR slogan for operators; it ought to be part of the corporate DNA of all gambling and betting operators, both online and land based. It seems to me that that’s the real spirit and key message of our new Dutch gambling act.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for me to wrap things up. I would love to see us set an example for the rest of the world. I’d love people to say: 'Look, the way the Netherlands went about legalising and regulating online gambling, that’s a textbook example of how it should be done.' That will entail gambling operators acting in a responsible manner, and not pushing the boundaries of laws and regulations; in short, providing no grounds for society to criticise them, let alone become outraged by their behaviour.
So let’s all focus on our commitment to a truly responsible market opening!