Corporate parent fined over Netherlands-facing games
The Netherlands Gambling Authority, or Kansspelautoriteit (Ksa), has slapped a €350,000 penalty on the immediate corporate parent of bwin, Gibraltar-based ElectraWorks Limited.
The fine ends a lengthy investigation into games and services which the Ksa determined were targeting Dutch online gamblers. It covers activity offered by bwin from August 3, 2018 through to January 16, 2019 – well within the time of bwin’s current existence as part of GVC Holdings LLC’s extensive brand family.
The penalty follows extended hearings on bwin’s unlicensed services, which occurred largely in 2017. These were conducted by the Ksa and included bwin representation.
After the hearings, bwin still declined to remove certain elements of its online services which the Ksa had deemed to be directly aimed at Dutch gamblers.
According to the Ksa, bwin offered a “large selection of sports bets on the site. It was also possible to play live casino games such as roulette, blackjack and poker.”
“All Dutch banks”, the Ksa noted.
Long dispute history
The fine issued by the Ksa continues a decade-long conflict between Dutch authorities and bwin that actually predates the Kansspellautoriteit’s founding in 2012. In 2011, the Netherlands’ pre-Ksa Project Bureau of Gaming threatened bwin with fines and blacklisting over its Dutch-targeting services.
In 2012, the two sides reached an informal non-prosecution agreement. Bwin agreed to two criteria: no Dutch-language gambling offers, and no advertising on TV or in print media in the Netherlands.
Dutch regulators also advised bwin that further restrictions might be forthcoming, as the long-term goals of the just-forming Ksa were still being debated. That has turned into a very long-term project, as the Netherlands’ online gambling regulatory framework will not go into effect until January 2021.
No clog bingo or stroopwafels
In June 2017, the Ksa announced stricter enforcement policies with immediate effect. During the 2017 Gaming in Holland conference, Ksa officials fielded questions on the heightened restrictions. They stated that the changes were preferred to a total online gambling “blackout” that might stay in effect until 2021.
The new restrictions detailed several criteria that the Ksa would use to assess whether a given site targeted Dutch gamblers. These included – but were not limited to – the following:
• offers of games of chance displayed on a website in the Dutch language, whether or not this occurred post-login
• illegal online gambling offers, advertised via radio or television or in printed media, aimed at the Dutch market
• use of domain names that referenced the Netherlands or Dutch-themed concepts, in combination with gaming specifications (examples included “clog bingo”, “fun poker”, and or “red-white-blue-casino”
• other characteristics from which a focus on the Netherlands can be derived (examples included pictures of typical Dutch elements like clogs or mills, or bonuses that can be characterized as typically Dutch, such as stroopwafels
• the use of means of payment that are exclusively or largely through Dutch entities
• the lack of (different variations) of geo-blocking.
Bwin argued for personalized notification
Legal counsel for bwin argued that the company was entitled to personalized notification of any tightened restrictions subsequent to its 2011 non-prosecution agreement. However, the Ksa noted it did not promise such personalized services.
Bwin was also forced to admit it had received industry-wide notifications about regulatory changes, beginning in 2012.
The Kansspellautoriteit ruling determined that there was:
no basis for the opinion that the stated tightening of the prioritization policy is contrary to the principle of trust.”
“That certain prioritization criteria [existed] for a long time, after all, does not mean that ElectraWorks (bwin) could trust that such criteria would never be tightened or supplemented. In fact, in the pleading, it states that at different times bwin has been warned that changes to its prioritization policy were possible.”
The Ksa added that “ElectraWorks had, as of August 3 2018, […] more than one year after publication of the stricter prioritization criteria. Its site could have adjusted.”
ElectraWorks and bwin have six weeks to file an appeal regarding the Ksa’s penalty assessment.