Betsson continues ‘fight for the right’ to be regulated

Betsson continues ‘fight for the right’ to be regulated

Wednesday, August 2, 2017 Posted by James Walker
The company’s chief executive has renewed his call for European action against ‘flagrant’ treaty breaches

The chief executive of Betsson has reiterated the online gaming group would have to “fight for the right” to achieve its aim of being fairly regulated in the Netherlands, even as he issued a pessimistic forecast for when the market might finally open up.

Last month, Betsson urged the European Commission to re-open infringement proceedings against the Netherlands authorities for what it termed a “flagrant breach” of EU law, suggesting the “ongoing confusion” in the Dutch market was “unacceptable”.

Speaking during the company’s second-quarter earnings call on July 19, Ulrik Bengtsson pressed home the attack, saying that the consequences of the political situation in the Netherlands right now meant that it was unlikely the proposed new online gambling law would be in place until after the next election, which is scheduled for 2021.

“I want to reiterate that the current Dutch law is not compliant with EU law,” he said. “The Commission has warned Holland twice about this and we have now finally complained to the Commission. This is Betsson’s way of saying we need to fight for the right to be regulated.”

Infringement proceedings were first initiated in 2006 and, in response the Dutch authorities, embarked upon a lengthy process that was meant to have led by now to a modernised regulatory system. However, a series of parliamentary and governmental delays have now resulted in an impasse with final legislation still thought to be a while away.

To add to Betsson’s frustrations, the Dutch authorities embarked upon a crackdown in May on sites marketing to Dutch consumers. The government outlined a series of factors that it deemed would constitute illegal targeting of Dutch consumers, including the use of stereotypical graphics, such as clogs and windmills, and products such as the Dutch delicacy ‘stroopwafels’, or syrup waffles.

Betsson is particularly at risk from such actions given its roster of sites include the Oranje Casino and Kroon Casino offerings, which are redolent of Dutch culture.

The group’s complaint said it was trusting that the Commission would ensure the Dutch Gaming Authority (KSA) would “immediately refrain from continued enforcement of the law”.

It was relying on the body to “step in and take all action necessary” to ensure the Dutch authorities complied with its treaty obligations.

“A compliant legal framework would remove the confusion and instability that the actions of the Dutch gaming authority, KSA, are creating for Dutch consumers at present,” the company added.

In a speech at the Gaming in Holland conference in June, the chief executive of the KSA Marja Appelman admitted that the new measures had “caused quite some noise” but suggested the measures were the “logical consequence of everything we have done in past years”.

“According to Dutch law, the offering of unlicensed remote gambling in the Netherlands is illegal,” she told the audience. “I am sure this is well- known to you all. On the journey into the Dutch gambling landscape, unlicensed operators are not allowed to target their gambling product to Dutch consumers.”

Despite the regulator’s effort in recent years, Appelman suggested there were sites that still had “clear cut offerings targeted at Dutch consumers”, such as ‘tulip bonuses’. “Moreover, the Dutch consumer is led to believe he is dealing with a legal operator when he is able to pay with a typical Dutch online payment method,” she added.

She said that such sites did not show “trustworthiness or respect”.

The KSA’s approach received a boost last week when the Dutch court in The Hague found that the authority was right to issue fines against Mansion and ComeOn for targeting Dutch players, adding that the KSA’s approach was consistent with EU law.

The statement on the KSA website added: “The court further reiterates that the Council of State has previously ruled that the priority policy is not unreasonable, since in particular Netherlands-based providers can cause damage to Dutch consumers.”

The Mansion case dates back to early 2015 when it was fined €150,000 for targeting Dutch players via its casino.com offering. The KSA said at the time that casino.com used the Dutch language, a Netherlands flag and a Dutch payment system, iDeal. It also ran adverts in Dutch between June 2012 and August 2013.

The ComeOn case was revealed in January 2015. Again, the site in question was found to be in the Dutch language and featured a Dutch flag as well as a Dutch language chat service.

Totally Gaming says: The Dutch Lower House passed its landmark bill to regulate online gaming in the country for the first time on July 7, 2016. At the time of the bill’s passing, the consensus among local industry observers was that the Dutch online gambling law would come into effect during the first months 2018. This, however, is unlikely to be the case. Speaking at the Gaming in Holland conference in June, Dennis van Breeman, programme manager for Gambling Policy Modernisation at the Ministry of Security and Justice, said: “After the public consultation, the lower regulation first has to be sent to parliament then afterwards to the state council for advice. Therefore, the earliest time to have the remote gaming regulation go into force is July 2018. This is a tight schedule, and I think reluctance is appropriate.”

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