What can be learnt from the Dutch experience?

What can be learnt from the Dutch experience? - Banner
Simon Wooldridge
by Simon Wooldridge Last updated:

Some striking developments have shed light on the parlous state of the gambling industry in The Netherlands – with the spotlight focused particularly on the prevalence of illegal gambling. Dutch authorities have recently made some drastic and controversial moves which warrant closer examination.

Examining trends abroad allows us to glean insights into the possible future of the British gambling industry. This is especially true when we look at The Netherlands, which, culturally, is not dissimilar to Britain.

Background

The Kansspelautoriteit (KSA), the Dutch gambling regulator, reprimanded multiple operators in 2023 for violations of rules designed to prevent problem gambling. Violations included insensitively-placed advertisements and a lack of real-time monitoring. 

The KSA, like the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), is in the process of overhauling regulations to account for modern technologies and the rise of remote gambling. Looking at the topics up for discussion, we can see that many of the KSA’s areas of focus align closely with those of the UKGC.

Dutch entities are in the midst of an ongoing series of consultations, much like those in Britain have been, in the wake of the government’s Gambling White Paper.

In December 2023, Franc Weerwind, the Dutch Minister for Legal Protection, expedited certain elements of the overhaul following what he described as “worrying and undesirable developments”.

The new regulations state that operators must contact players who set a deposit limit of €350 or more. They will also be required to display all funds in euros, and additional research on gambling limits will be carried out.

The Dutch Online Gambling Association (NOGA) hit back, warning of potential adverse effects for the industry. NOGA brought into question the efficacy of such regulations, and expressed concern that they may drive more players away from legitimate gambling sites, onto illegal and unlicensed ones.

Slots ban

Then, on 16 April, the House of Representatives of the Netherlands voted in favour of outright bans on gambling advertisements and forms of gambling which it deems “high risk”. This includes a ban on slots. The result wasn't a landslide, but a majority nonetheless, and as such therefore likely to become law before too long.

Advertising

Like the UKGC, the KSA releases regular updates and overviews of the industry. The most recent, published in early April, stated that the 2023 advertising ban had not produced “any noticeable contraction”. 

In February, Derk Boswijk of the Christian Democratic Appeal party submitted a motion for an outright ban on gambling advertising in The Netherlands. It was ultimately rejected, but is an indicator of a growing concern about problem gambling among the Dutch.

These events, compounded, likely contributed to what prompted the 16 April vote in favour of an outright ban on gambling advertising. 

Banning gambling ads completely, doesn't, ultimately, seem out of the question in Britain. Much debate has already been had about the ethics of ads and their influence in the UK.

Saying that, an outright ad ban doesn’t appear to be on the immediate horizon for the UK. However, now that a precedent has been set, there are likely to be certain organisations pushing for the same or similar, and more discussions of these broad, sweeping bans.

The Dutch experience, in this regard, could also be interpreted as a sign of just how quickly legislation can change and adapt to shifting public opinions.

Slots

Although not legally confirmed, the voted-for ban on slots in The Netherlands will likely to cause great concern for operators, players and charities. We can't anticipate the full ramifications of such a move, but it's reasonable, at this stage, to assume many players will search out illegal, unlicensed sites.

A heavy-handed approach such as a total ban on slots would be met with both scepticism and resistance in the UK. The UKGC has acknowledged that slots appear to be more addictive than other forms of gambling, but to rule them out entirely would be an insult to the many players who enjoy them safely and responsibly.

Such a move in Britain would first and foremost benefit unlicensed and black market casinos. This in turn would undermine much of the hard work done by charities and regulators to keep Britons gambling safely. 

Dutch gamblers make up just 5% of the adult population, compared to almost half the adult population in Britain. Therefore, the impact of any ban or significant regulatory change is likely to be felt much more strongly in the UK.

Illegal gambling

The KSA aims to keep 80% or more of Dutch gamblers on legal, licenced sites. The current figure is around 90%, making this an area of relative success. 

However, it could be argued that 90% is still low. The UKGC does not appear to publish an equivalent figure, instead taking a zero-tolerance stance against unlicensed operators. 

At the other end of the spectrum, a recent survey of the German gambling market showed around 50% of activity occurring on the black market. The number of German players using illegal sites is largely attributable to over-regulation in recent years.

Similarly, following the introduction of a general advertising ban, Belgian authorities are now warning other regulators about the adverse effects they’ve experienced. This includes a 6% rise in the number of online players using illegal sites.

In further efforts to combat illegal gambling, the KSA has partnered with Cloudflare, the international cloud services provider, who will supply the KSA with data which can be used against unlicensed operators, and will cease to provide services to some illegal operators.

It is hoped that this will significantly reduce the number of players using services which do not hold a KSA licence, potentially even stopping them altogether.

The main concern in this area is that sweeping, general bans, such as the proposed ban on slots, would benefit the black market massively. Players who regularly enjoy slots would be likely to seek them elsewhere. Regulators need to strike a balance between protecting people and allowing them to enjoy gambling safely and legally.

Levels of illegal gambling in the UK are relatively low. Still, heavy-handed regulations could easily change this. Hopefully, the UKGC will learn from the mistakes made in Europe, and take a light-touch approach, avoiding a spike in illegal gambling among Britons.

Affordability checks

The Netherlands recently voted in favour of mandatory financial background checks, much like those which the UKGC will be implementing in the near future. 

The fact that the British and Dutch gambling industries are neck and neck in this regard suggests that other trends exhibited by one may soon apply to the other.

Looking ahead

The ultimate outcome of the 16 April vote to ban slots and advertising in The Netherlands will be determined by Franc Weerwind. It is his responsibility to either approve or reject the proposed laws.

Many of the trends seen in the Dutch gambling industry are disconcerting. They clearly showcase the damage that over-regulation can have on individual players as well as the wider industry.

Another key takeaway to be gleaned by comparing various gambling markets is that, whilst the British industry is currently relatively healthy and well regulated, it only takes one legislative mishap to turn the tide. 

Players, if isolated or too greatly inconvenienced by tough regulations, are likely to turn to illegal gambling in alarmingly large numbers. Therefore, bodies such as the KSA and UKGC will have to tread lightly if they are to implement new protective regulations without driving players to illegal alternatives. 

The road ahead could be a bumpy one. It's certainly one that will have its twists and turns.

Simon Wooldridge
by Simon Wooldridge Last updated:

Simon’s ‘relentless pursuit of justice’ when it comes to consumer online experiences aligns perfectly with No Wagering’s fairness philosophy. Punitive wagering requirements and burying important things in the small print drive him to despair. Helping point players in the direction of no wagering bonuses on great games gives him a warm fuzzy feeling.