Speech René Jansen, 2 februari 2024

Speech René Jansen, KKF / IMGL

Good evening everyone,

Thanks Justin (KKF) and Quirino (IMGL), for the invitation to stand here once again. This is my fifth time speaking to you here and at the same time it is also my last: this summer I will retire as chair of the Kansspelautoriteit (Ksa) and I will hand over my duties to a new chair of the board.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to speak to you once more about the Dutch gambling market, because a lot has changed over the past years. In my speech tonight I will look back and look ahead towards the remainder of this year 2024. I will focus on the online gambling market given its currency. I think this will not come as a surprise to you.

I will first look back with you at the past years.

We see that from a global perspective the online market has developed as expected: it has grown strongly since it was opened in October 2021, but that growth now appears to have levelled off. Developments are stabilising. Operators now know what is expected of them and they have more insight into the mutual relationships and their competitive position.

This means two things: the most relevant uncertainties in legislation and regulations have been identified and clarified, and operators have to profile themselves less strongly on name recognition alone, but more and especially on what makes them better than the competition.

Why do I highlight these two points, which appear to be unconnected at first glance? The reason is that operators often use uncertainties in regulations as an excuse to test the limits and thus expand their market share. I would like to illustrate this on the basis of the duty of care operators have towards their players; a core obligation in gambling legislation.

In September of last year, we published our long-awaited investigation into compliance with the duty of care on the part of online operators. We initiated this investigation because we saw that the duty of care was implemented in very different ways by the various operators. It became clear in this connection that legislation and regulations contained too many open standards and that it is difficult for operators to determine what is and what is not acceptable.

I am willing to acknowledge and understand this to a certain degree. I am quite aware that it concerns a commercial market in which competitive positions play an important role. But the fact that open standards can be elaborated in multiple ways cannot be an excuse to ignore the duty of care or to implement it in a minimal manner. Naturally, this also applies to other legal standards and requirements, such as the advertising rules, anti-money laundering provisions, preventing match-fixing and bet-fixing etcetera.

I repeated this warning time and again during the speeches I gave here previously: moderate your marketing, do not test the limits, do not opt for a minimal but rather choose an optimal implementation of obligations, profile yourself as a safe and reliable gambling environment.

Over the past years, my pleas have become somewhat of a ‘constant beat’ or, if you will (for those who remember the old vinyl records), a broken record.

In 2020, in the run-up to the entry into effect of the Remote Betting and Gambling Act I foresaw that the sector would come under a magnifying glass. Why? Simple because the subject of ‘gambling’ is traditionally very controversial in our country.

I made it known very clearly that the responsibility on the part of operators goes far beyond mere basic compliance with the rules. I would like to quote a sentence from my speech of 31 January 2020: ‘Legislators in our country should not be forced to take action to put in place additional measures or measures to restore the status quo.’ I have never claimed that I am able to predict the future, but looking back this is exactly what is happening: the rules are being tightened.

Unfortunately, it became clear at the end of 2021 and in 2022 that my warnings were not heeded. The deluge of advertising after the market had been opened very soon resulted in a lot of discontent and negative social and political sentiment.

The Minister for Legal Protection, Franc Weerwind, announced in response that he would be taking measures to limit advertising and introduced a ban on using role models in 2022 and a ban on untargeted advertising in July 2023.

Once again: I understand that operators are active in a competitive market. I am aware that it is necessary to increase name recognition in a new market.

However, as I also said in 2022: “things could have been toned down slightly”. I expressed my disappointment concerning the lack of self-control operators appeared to have at that time as well as the fact that the rules had to be tightened only a few months after opening. I did not predict the future by using a crystal ball, but by being very much aware of social and political sentiments relating to online gambling. I call on operators to do the same.

And finally, I would like to look back at the contribution I made here last year. In February 2023, I once more raised the issue of advertising, because we saw prohibited advertising activities multiple times around the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. We also saw loyalty campaigns targeting young adults. We rapped the knuckles of operators in connection with cash back bonuses. In last year’s speech I also placed more emphasis on the duty of care and the quality of the control database (data safe), also known as the CDB, of various operators.

I did so because the Ksa is of the opinion that the market is reaching a certain degree of maturity. You can overlook certain breaches during the initial phase after the opening, because there may be uncertainty as to how the rules should be interpreted. Because starting a business is a process of ups and downs. We have passed that point. This means that as far as I am concerned, we may expect more from operators.

I hereby conclude this review. One important lesson is perhaps that the space of and limits on entrepreneurship in the gambling market are determined to a significant degree by social and political appreciation of the actual and perceived conduct of the operators in the market. Reputation is therefore of essential importance!

I would like to move on to a different subject and together with you consider the current state of affairs. I will first address our top priority, namely the duty of care of operators towards their players.

I expect a maximum effort from operators in this area. Moreover, it is a subject and an obligation that should not be the subject of competition between operators, unless it is a battle for the highest level of protection. The focus of our supervision in 2024 is primarily on compliance with the duty of care.

We have established that compliance with these rules is not sufficient at this time. The new draft policy rules on Responsible Gambling have been placed with the market and other stakeholders for consultation. That consultation will soon be completed after we extended the response deadline by three weeks. I am pleased to see that there are already operators who have taken up the challenge and who are getting to work on this even before publication.

These policy rules focus in particular on the deadline within which operators must be able to identify problematic gambling behaviour. Being able to intervene quickly and adequately is essential to be able to prevent addiction, financial damage and other gambling-related problems. By means of these new rules we also introduce a duty to investigate (or a duty to verify) for operators in case of player deposits in excess of EUR 700 per month. I am aware that this is often referred to in publications as a deposit limit, but it is not.

Why do we focus on this?

We no longer wish to see that players lose very large or even extreme amounts of money in a short period of time. It is precisely these sad and even distressing stories that have a great impact. Players deserve this protection. In addition, these stories actually colour the negative political and social sentiment and the attention in the media.

As the duty of care is such an important subject, we will also carry out our supervision concerning this subject in other ways. We will ask operators more frequently what occurred with respect to a certain player based on signals and data analyses. We wish to be more responsive, faster and intervene more directly if we get the feeling that things are not as they should be at an operator. We will therefore focus not only on starting often lengthy penalty proceedings.

The fact that we largely focus on the duty of care naturally does not mean that we are inactive with respect to other subjects. Let me first mention the advertising rules. The rules pertaining to advertisements for high-risk games of chance have been tightened significantly over the past years, with the ban on untargeted advertising introduced during the past summer as closing element for the time being.

This ban naturally caused great commotion among the operators and in particular where it concerns the 95% rule. At least 95% of internet advertising must be shown to adults over the age of 24. How this can be demonstrated and other questions was debated broadly. The Ksa announced at the start of the ban that it would not immediately carry out strict enforcement and that it first wished to analyse how the ban worked in practice. The Ksa did obviously deal with clear breaches immediately, such as advertising in outdoor spaces. There is little scope for interpretation when it comes to those rules.

However, when it comes to online advertising, that is different. The preconditions imposed with respect to online advertising currently leave room for interpretation. For example, it is difficult to determine how the option for exclusion on online advertising should be given. We are discussing these issues with the Ministry. Until these conversations are done, the Ksa cannot provide guidance to the industry regarding the interpretation of legislation and regulations in this area.

Please note: this is not a carte blanche to flood the internet with advertising that reaches vulnerable groups in excess of what is permitted or to send additional advertising to a group over the age of 24 so that the percentage decreases. Handling this too laconically or deliberately testing the limits, I repeat previous appeals, could easily result in the introduction of a full ban on advertising. These rules will be evaluated this year and political sentiments will once again have great influence in case of a legislative amendment. Keep this in mind with respect to the reputation you as a sector wish to have.

Following on from 2023, another issue that will receive more attention is AML (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Prevention) Act). AML compliance resembles compliance with the duty of care in many respects: the operator must be able to notice suspicious situations and take action quickly in both cases. The question whether the player is able to afford the amounts that have been gambled does not deviate very much from the question where a player’s money comes from.

It is therefore not remarkable that we also detected that not nearly all operators comply sufficiently with this act. We have since imposed the first sanction in this connection and I do not exclude the possibility that more fines will follow during this year.

The supervision priorities I just mentioned concern licensed online operators. We also continue to devote attention to the illegal offer, the black market.

The degree of channelisation has been high since the opening of the market and continues to increase: more than 90% of Dutch players only plays with legal operators. We continue the fight against illegal operators unabated. In 2024, we will further expand the capacity of our Enforcement Department and, moreover, we will consider new ways to counter the illegal offer.

In doing so, we increasingly often look at external parties that facilitate the illegal offer, such as illegal marketing affiliates, the providers of payment services and internet service providers. The black market is large and operators are not easily caught out so we should not be either. If it cannot be established who is behind an illegal affiliate, we demand that hosting providers render the website inaccessible. If we identify illegal activities, we impose sanctions that really hurt.

This concludes several key objectives for the year 2024. I will wrap up my contribution for tonight.

I previously expressed the ambition that the Netherlands could serve as an example for other regulated gambling markets. So far that has not been sufficiently successful. However, operators, both individually and jointly, still have every opportunity to turn the tide. As far I am concerned, we are not heading for a slow-motion trainwreck as it was put so eloquently by a Dutch Member of Parliament last year. At any rate: this must not happen and does not need to happen!

I hereby make one more appeal: do not consider the legal online gambling market to be self-evident.

I know that many of you, similarly to myself, believe in the benefits of a legal market. Operators do have to show clearly that the player protection  is structurally at a much higher level than is the case at illegal parties. The interests of players should be the central focus in all layers of the gambling operators.

It must be inconceivable for operators to attempt to strengthen their competitive position at the expense of the players. I understand that you take account of your shareholders, but you should certainly not cut back on qualified staff and the right monitoring tools. Do not wait for the definitive policy rules on Responsible Gambling before taking action. After all, you are aware of the general features of the matters we have outlined therein and what we expect from you.

Take up the challenge yourself and prevent front page news articles about players who have lost way too much money in a short period of time. Do not be guided by the difficulties of the supervision of the new advertising rules in shaping your marketing strategy.

It may be the case that so far the opening of the Dutch gambling market has not been a shining example, but it might become one for other markets yet to be opened. The benefits of a legal market will have to be demonstrated convincingly. That has certainly not become easier, but it is absolutely not impossible. It is now up to the industry to make this happen.

I wish you a lot of success in doing so and hope that my successor will be able to toss the broken record and play you a new song next year.

Thank you for your attention!