From the UK perspective, it’s almost hard to believe there are still some countries without any legal basis for gambling online. Yet even within Europe, the UK remains something of an exception to the rule, with its mature, adult approach to regulating legal online gambling.
The famously tolerant Netherlands is one example, where there remains no legal way for residents to bet and gamble online, effectively denying the freedoms enjoyed by citizens elsewhere on the continent.
But in spite of this lack of support for a legal, regulated online gaming environment, levels of participation in the Dutch market have increased markedly over the last two years, according to figures released today.
In a report published by research and consultancy group Motivaction International, an estimated 1.86 million Dutch citizens had engaged in online gambling over the sample period, accounting for over 10% of the population.
The figures are all the more startling when considered in light of the current picture of gambling regulation in the country, with each and every online gambling transaction unauthorised by the government or local laws.
Instead, Netherlands-based players are forced to turn to online operators prepared to accept Dutch players, which puts them outside the scope of any domestic licensing scheme or consumer protections. As with all forms of unregulated online gambling, this is simply denying reality – these online casinos do exist and will serve Dutch players, so a lack of regulation only hampers the experience for citizens.
The figures reflect an increase of over 300,000 gamblers since the last sample period in 2016, showing there is a growing trend towards online gambling from people within the country. According to their estimates, the market is currently worth some €592 million – revenue from which the Dutch government receives not a penny.
A total of 18% of respondents in the survey said they had gambled online, with 38% saying they had gambled in some form over the period. The study looked at responses from over 15,000 individuals aged 18-80.
While sports betting and poker play actually fell over the period, casinos were up by 9.4%, giving some indication as to where the majority of the growth has been coming from. Yet interestingly, the large majority of those sampled were in favour of a Dutch-based system of regulation, despite the fact that there are no firm plans to introduce a regulatory model in the near future.
The figures will no doubt be of interest to the Dutch government, underlining the extent to which their citizens are currently operating outside of domestic laws to gamble online. What is clear is that in order to get their slice of this revenue in tax, the Dutch authorities are going to have to think again about their approach to regulating and licensing the casino sector.
The reality is that with player numbers increasing, online gaming in the Netherlands isn’t going away any time soon. Without a Dutch licensing scheme, these players are at the mercy of the individual casinos they’re signing up with, and their specific licensing requirements – which may or may not offer any degree of protection to Netherlands-based players.
For as long as this remains a grey area, gamblers, citizens and public services will continue to miss out on what could be a more effective, better structure system for regulating online gambling activity.