Dutch Senate in Disarray over Remote Gaming Bill

Dutch Parliament building
The Dutch Senate is struggling to pass a controversial bill to modernize gambling laws.

30-second summary

  • Lower house cleared the Remote Gaming Bill in summer 2016
  • The Senate has delayed a vote for second time this month
  • Vote now scheduled for February 19
  • Bill to privatize Holland Casino also delayed

The upper house of the Dutch parliament, the Senate, has failed twice this month to go to a vote on the Remote Gaming Bill, which aims to overhaul the Netherlands’ hugely outdated gambling laws. The stalling is down to the Senate’s ongoing reluctance to work on the bill.

A related bill to privatize the country’s 14 state-owned casinos has also stalled.

Background to problematic bill

The draft Remote Gaming Bill was initially put before the Dutch parliament in 2015. The lower house passed it in July 2016, and it was expected that the Senate would pass it later that year. It was believed the legislation would come into effect in early 2017, if not sooner.

However, the Senate was seemingly reluctant to debate the bill. The legislation finally reappeared on the Senate’s agenda in January, with a promise to debate it on February 5. But the future of the bill is now uncertain after that vote was pushed back to February 12. And passage of the bill stalled again on that date.

Some of the difficulties stem from the fact that both tiers of the Dutch parliament are elected under proportional representation. The Senate is composed of senators from 12 political parties, four of which are in government.

The center-right Christian Democrat Appeal and the conservative Christian Union, both in the government, have repeatedly opposed the bill because they do not approve of gambling. Among the opposition, the leftwing Socialist Party is also not in favor.

Three questions raised

When the Remote Gaming Bill was slated for February 5, everyone expected it would pass by a slim majority. The debate was robust, with the expected opposition, but it seemed there would still be enough votes in hand for approval. Many of the tabled objections were likely to be dealt with in secondary legislation.

Then came the bombshell. A number of senators raised three questions – many of which had been discussed in debates in 2016 – and demanded that Justice Minister Sander Dekker provide written answers to them. Dekker is responsible for steering the bill through the legislature.

The first question concerned the definition of “illegal operator” (the bill has provisions for dealing with the rise in illegal gambling) and whether such operators would be permitted to apply for a license if the bill passed.

The second question was what specific measures Dekker proposed to restrict gambling advertising online, particularly on social media, and on what legal basis. The final question was whether legislation already existed to block the websites of any gambling operators without one of the new licenses.

One week later…

When the senators reconvened on February 12, Dekker was grilled heavily on his answers to the three questions, which simply reiterated his previous detailed responses to them. Much of the discussion focused on the “blackout period” for illegal operators who might be able to apply for a license. Dekker suggested this could be two years. It would be up to the regulator to decide, on the basis of how actively an operator had deliberately sought to attract Dutch customers.

Dekker also emphasized his opposition to restrictions on gambling ads, arguing that they would enable Dutch gamblers to choose licensed operators rather than illegal platforms.

Despite much uncertainty, the Senate has agreed to go ahead with a vote on February 19. If the interventions in the Senate in the past two sessions are an indicator, it seems the Remote Gaming Bill could still pass.

The Holland Casino bill

The separate but related Casino Reform Bill concerns the sell-off of the state-owned Holland Casino. There are 14 branches of the casino around the country. Under the draft legislation, the company will be broken up to be privatized and sold off to commercial operators. Ten of the casinos will be sold under the brand name, while four will be placed on the market individually.

During the debates of February 5, it became clear that there was not enough support to pass the legislation. Many senators wanted the state monopoly to continue for the time being. Dekker has agreed to return to the Senate in May, with the hope of a vote on the proposed privatization and clauses inserted to prevent the expansion of casinos in the Netherlands.