Thanks to the new Remote Gambling Act, the online gambling market in the Netherlands will open on Friday. For the first time, lovers of poker, blackjack, or roulette can try their luck digitally and legally. Four questions about this new gambling world.
Why is the online gambling market in countries like the Netherlands opening up?
Because the online gambling market already exists clandestinely. Among the list of sports betting apps, only Toto (sports betting) and ZEturf (horse racing) were allowed to offer online bets. But an estimated 1.5 million Dutch people have found their way to other, illegal gambling sites in recent years.
Through legalization, the Gaming Authority, which supervises the Dutch gambling market, can better combat gambling addictions and check more strictly whether the games run fairly. Within three years, 80 percent of the already active players must have taken the step to a licensed gambling site.
‘We need to raise the bar even higher, says René Jansen, chairman of the board of the Gaming Authority. ‘But it is difficult to eliminate the illegal alternatives. Moreover, players from the Netherlands still have to find their way to the legal offer.’
What will the new online gambling market look like?
Whoever opens all websites that are legally allowed to offer online gambling simultaneously imagines himself in a digital Las Vegas. The Gaming Authority has granted ten licenses to online casinos this week, including four Dutch ones. A total of 29 companies had submitted a permit application, but two-thirds of them did not yet meet all the requirements. According to Jansen, the dropouts usually did not have the technological side of their gambling site in order.
Among the gambling websites that go online on Friday are well-known names. Holland Casino, owned by the Dutch state, will broadcast a live casino from a studio in its Scheveningen branch, with the classics of blackjack and roulette. Players can also play online poker, play slot machines and bet on sports matches. In a few months, there will be bingo.
Other companies have been set up specifically for the online gambling market. BetCity.nl, which is owned by five CasinoCity casinos in Amsterdam, was founded six months ago. With a similar game offer, it competes. Especially in sports betting, BetCity.nl hopes to distinguish itself: one-third of the 24 employees form a sports editor who informs gamblers about the latest news so that they can place their bets in time.
Some large foreign gambling sites, including Unibet and Pokerstars, may only apply next year because they previously illegally served Dutch players. If they do not protect their game offer now, the Gaming Authority can impose fines of at least 600 thousand euros on the websites, higher than before. The regulator can also tackle the companies that arrange the payments for gambling sites.
Board chairman Erwin van Lambaart of Holland Casino does not expect that he will have to close his fourteen physical casinos soon because all gamblers stay at home. ‘The online gambling market is a growth market, but I am convinced that part of our target group will always come to our branches.’
What should online gambling providers do to combat gambling addictions?
Gambling websites need to keep an eye on whether their customers are not crossing their own boundaries. Before playing, a player must register with his id. He must also indicate how often and for how long he wants to gamble and how much money he wants to lose. ‘If someone plays remarkably often or for a long time, or systematically increases their limits, this indicates intemperance’, explains Jansen of the Gaming Authority. ‘Then a company has to intervene: gently start with pop-ups or refer to addiction care.’
In extreme cases, a gambling website must include the player in a central register, which will also be used by physical casinos. A player can then not gamble for at least six months. Also at the request of himself or a loved one, a player can end up on the list.
Since websites separately monitor the gambling behavior of players, a gambling addict could make a tour of various online casinos unnoticed. ‘You simply cannot make control watertight’, Jansen acknowledges. ‘But I think something like that will also be accompanied by intemperate playing behavior within a single site.’
What is the Achilles heel of the new gambling law?
To pull gambling enthusiasts out of the illegal circuit, online casinos that have obtained a license are also allowed to advertise their games from Friday. Young people are particularly sensitive to this. But young people are also more vulnerable to gambling addiction, says Anneke Goudriaan, neuropsychologist and endowed professor of addiction. ‘If a certain game suddenly becomes popular among young adults, we may get more people who are struggling with gambling problems.’
Advertisements may therefore only be aimed at people from the age of 24. On television, commercials before seven o’clock in the evening are taboo. But there is still no consensus: on Friday, the Consumers’ Association withdrew from talks about an advertising code drawn up by the sector, because it would offer too little protection to vulnerable groups.
The AGOG Foundation, which helps people with gambling problems, is counting on more crowds in the coming period. ‘Especially when the foreign parties are going to fight their way into the market’, says chairman Feite Hofman. ‘Then you get even more advertising.’
Professor of Health Psychology and Psychology Arie Dijkstra expects that the advertisements will lead to a new, social norm. “If you see an advertisement for gambling every week for years, you think that’s normal. A new culture is emerging: you can watch Netflix, go to football and you can gamble for a while.’
How big that group will be, according to experts, remains to be seen. Moreover, there is usually a few years between the moment when people start gambling and the moment when that leads to problems. It is therefore important, says Dijkstra, that the government continues to monitor the size of this group. ‘But we accept that a new group of people will have gambling problems.’