Speech René Jansen, 8 april 2022

Speech René Jansen tijdens Annual Gaming Industry Event, georganiseerd door  Kalff Katz & Franssen en de International Masters of Gaming Law (IMGL), 8 april 2022

Good evening everyone,

Thank you, Justin, for that introduction – and thank you to all of Kalff Katz & Franssen, for that matter. I would also like to thank Marc Ellinger, President of the International Masters of Gaming Law, IMGL. I am glad that we are carrying on the tradition of having the Chair of the Netherlands Gambling Authority, the Kansspelautoriteit or Ksa, deliver a keynote speech at this fantastic event.

I was last here two years ago, as, sadly, last year COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works. Fortunately, these types of events can once again be held freely. However, we are now faced with the painful reality of suffering and hardship of a very different nature: the war in Ukraine. Which, first and foremost, is devastating to the Ukrainian people, but also has consequences for the rest of the world. The extent of those consequences remains to be seen. But it seems clear to many of us that the world will look very different from now on. I just wanted to say that before we move on to gambling: I think it is appropriate that we put things in perspective.

Moving on.

Two years ago, I expressed the hope that the Netherlands would become the textbook example of what should be done if an online gambling market were to open up. Of course, as you all know, the market for online gambling in the Netherlands opened up on 1 October last year.  Initially, 10 companies managed to obtain a licence by meeting all the stringent requirements. We now have 18 licence holders for online gambling. But this is by no means the end of the road. You will be aware that in the context of the Postema Parliamentary motion, certain operators were required to wait before they were allowed to submit a licence application – which means more licences will follow. We currently have 16 licence applications pending, with additionally 14 submitted in the last week of March. But pay attention: This does not mean that we will get 30 new licence holders; experience to date shows that 1 out of 3 applications is successful.

So has the Netherlands become a textbook example? I’m afraid I have to say no. Over the past few months, the main focus has been on the number of TV advertisements, which cannot have escaped anyone’s attention and has been a source of irritation for a lot of people. In the run-up to the opening of the market, I urged the sector to exercise restraint on several occasions. Not to open all the floodgates and to take into account the limited social acceptance of gambling.
After all, gambling is not a generally accepted form of entertainment – there are people who object to gambling for reasons of principle or for other reasons. We can now conclude that any such restraint was sadly lacking. Certainly, it was not exercised across the full breadth of all licence holders.

This has led to a debate in society and to intervention by Parliament. A number of motions were submitted in the House of Representatives and the Minister for Legal Protection, Franc Weerwind, has already announced far-reaching measures. Fedor Meerts of the Ministry of Justice and Security, who is responsible for gambling policy, will undoubtedly address those measures later. In short, the huge amount of advertising did not contribute to the acceptance of gambling in society. Which is a shame, because the legalisation and regulation of online gambling is precisely intended to provide those who wish to gamble with a safe environment where attention is devoted to addiction prevention and anti-money laundering measures. My appeal to the industry to exercise self-restraint may have been naive, given that what we have witnessed in the Netherlands in recent months is exactly what we saw happen in Belgium, in Spain, in Italy and in the United Kingdom previously. And of course: I get it to a certain extent. After all, we had created a new, legal market and operators were consequently eager to compete and build up their market share. And if the competition is giving it all, it would take a considerable amount of self-restraint to do nothing and risk falling by the wayside. Moreover, the legalisation of online gambling was also intended to lure players away from illegal operators and draw them to legal offering. In that sense, we need advertising, and depending on your views on gambling, it is a necessary evil. Channelling players to legal operators in the complete absence of advertising would be far more difficult to achieve. However, things could have been toned down slightly.

Whether the Ksa could have done more is a legitimate question.  I don't think so. The law says nothing about the amount of advertising that is allowed. By contrast, there are requirements regarding the content of advertising, meaning that it cannot encourage immoderate gambling and must not be misleading. And there are time slots, meaning that commercials relating to high-risk gambling may only be broadcasted after 9 p.m. We have seen that many licence holders have been nearing or crossing the boundaries of the law in terms of these two aspects. In those cases where advertising did not comply with content requirements, the Ksa immediately responded. We intervened when an operator advertised odds on the website of the Eredivisie – the Dutch Premier League. We warned one operator to stop advertising on Twitter during a football match. The operator in question had been enthusiastically tweeting about the score in the hope of encouraging players to place new bets, which is prohibited as it encourages impulsive gambling. We reprimanded another operator who had been posting betting odds on a football news site, where clicking on certain odds would inadvertently redirect a visitor to the gambling website. This is similarly prohibited: advertising must be recognisable.

We also took action in other areas. We reviewed the advertising policies of 11 online operators, with a specific focus on the protection of vulnerable people, such as minors and young adults. Three operators received an official warning and were required to modify their advertising policies immediately to avoid enforcement action being taken by the Ksa; less serious instances of non-compliance were identified at 7 operators, which they nevertheless had to correct. We raised the alarm with regard to the gambling limits to be put in place, which certain operators were not taking seriously, allowing players to gamble away ridiculous sums of money 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. In principle, although these parties were acting according to the letter of the law, their actions were certainly not in accordance with its spirit. Very unfortunate, to use an understatement. Given Ksa’s total workload and keeping in mind our restricted resources, I do believe that we have done what we could. We mainly focused on rapid and brief interventions aimed at achieving immediate behavioural change on the part of operators. In the future, where necessary, we will also seriously consider imposing fines in order to send a powerful signal to the market.

Although less visible, the measures that the Ksa put in place in the area of enforcement to combat the illegal gambling market are equally crucial. We revised our penalty and enforcement policies with effect from 1 October, when the legal market was created. After all, the emergence of a legal market requires different enforcement measures than when the landscape consists solely of illegal operators. A stern letter from the Minister as well as our announcement of a stricter approach led to many large operators ceasing their activities in the Netherlands from 1 October last year.

We recently published our Annual Report, in which we also reported on the initial developments on the online market. The report includes a chart that shows legal activities crowding out illegal activities to a very significant extent from 1 October. That is exactly what we wanted to achieve. The aim of the law, after all, is to take players away from illegal operators and direct or channel them to legal operators. These operators offer a safe environment and - under our supervision - devote enough attention to gambling addiction. In this context, I can also report that in recent months our enforcement department investigated 158 gambling websites as part of our new enforcement policy. These investigations established whether it was possible for players to gamble on those sites from the Netherlands. I am pleased to say that follow-up investigations are only being carried out in 16 of those cases. The remaining 142 websites have discontinued their activities in the Netherlands. All of this is to say that, equally, things are going very well.

Another issue worth mentioning is that we currently have 634,000 legal player accounts in the Netherlands. This does not automatically equate to an equal number of players: an unknown number of players will hold accounts with several operators. This figure puts into perspective the narrative that the legalisation of the online gambling market would encourage gambling. There were some that said millions of Dutch citizens would take part in gambling. This is not the case – at least, it is not demonstrated by these figures.

We also looked at the size of the market from a financial perspective, which seems bigger than we initially thought. In the old days, we could only ever estimate the size of the market, given that, after all, we were dealing with illegal operators. We now have official figures. In the 4th quarter of 2021, gross gambling result amounted to 185 million euros, which reflects the stakes minus the prizes awarded. If we were to translate that into an entire year, this would amount to 740 million euros. This figure is higher than we initially estimated. In a report that we published in February 2021, we expected the Netherlands to achieve around 630 million euros. This was based on estimates from a number of sources, including H2 Gambling Capital. Our latest quarterly insights have allowed H2 to adjust its multi-year forecasts in the meantime. However, I will emphasise yet again that these initial developments must be interpreted with a high degree of caution.
The market is still in its infancy and has yet to develop.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude with an outline of the overall picture. I am somewhat disappointed in the fact that the gambling industry has not been able to muster the restraint and control it was asked to exercise.  After all, the legislator felt compelled to intervene after only a few months and curb advertising. On the other hand, I am pleased with the results we are seeing so far. We can already see the channelling of players from illegal to legal operators take shape very clearly. And that, of course, was what it was all about in the end: that Dutch consumers who want to gamble are able to find their way to safe gambling products. It is now crucial for the Ksa to provide strict, but fair oversight. This will be to ensure that those products are indeed safe. Where this is not yet the case to a sufficient degree, corrective action will be taken. We have come a long way in that regard. I suspect that I will be sharing more information with you on that score next year.

Thank you for your attention !