New Online Gambling Regulator Coming To Curacao Amid Dutch Push For Reform

Chances are good that prior to states launching legal online gambling sites in the US, Americans wagered without knowing who in the world was handling their bets. Or where.

It turns out that a lot of the time, it was nominally someone in Curaçao. The small Caribbean island of 165,000 residents licenses a reported 40% of the world’s offshore gambling sites.

That could change beginning this month, with an independent gaming regulator set to be installed to oversee the estimated 12,000 online casinos and sportsbooks conducting business through the country.

The term “through” is fitting, as many of these licensed operators don’t reside in Curaçao.

Today’s climate for online gambling in Curaçao

Online gambling license-holders in Curaçao often maintain nothing more than a mailing address in this constituent country of the Netherlands. That’s one reason it’s been hard for the Dutch Gambling authority, Kansspelautoriteit (KSA), to levy fines on bad actors or trace their assets.

According to Curacao.nu, Dutch officials are so serious about reform that they’re tying the installation of an independent gaming regulator to the dispensing of economic aid.

As the Curaçao Chronicle explained:

“Among other things, work is being done on legislation and regulations that provide for an independent supervisor. It will also issue and maintain licenses where necessary, subject to license revocation. [Curaçao] Finance Minister Javier Silvania writes on his Facebook page that the action plan has now been submitted.”

So the number of online gambling operators licensed in Curaçao may start dwindling once the regulator gets to work.

Despite acting as an international hub for online gambling, about 25% of Curaçao’s population lives in poverty, according to statistics gathered in 2011. Since then, the tourism-dependent island has been enduring coronavirus restrictions along with the rest of the world.

In 2019, nearly 1.3 million tourists visited Curaçao, and 463,685 stayed over. As of November 2021, the year-to-date totals from the Curaçao Tourism Board showed the “stayover arrivals” dropped by more than half to 222,715.

Why care about Curaçao’s gambling websites now?

The Netherlands began licensing and regulating its own legal online gambling sites in October.

Online casino operators common in the US, like PokerStars and Unibet, had for years been accepting players from the country. In the new Dutch marketplace, these sites had to cease accepting deposits and now must wait until next year to apply for an operator license, according to de Volkskrant.

In the publication’s Oct. 20 article about Dutch citizens betting €750 million on illegal online gambling sites, de Volkskrant reported:

“The Austrian Bwin and the Swedish Betsson expect to lose about 5.9 million euros and 2.5 million euros in profit each month, respectively. And the online gambling company 888 is counting on more than 700 thousand euros less per month.”

Meanwhile, 11 online casinos are now licensed in the Netherlands.

Then on Nov. 10, Amsterdam-based investigative journalism site Follow the Money published a piece titled “Curaçao Is a Paradise for Illegal Online Casinos (and wants to keep it that way).”

As a result, iGB reported, Dutch Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker had to answer questions from the Dutch Parliament about the 12,000 illegal online gambling sites operating out of Curaçao. Dekker emphasized that they were “sub-licenses” branching off of “a small number of master licenses” that authorities could transfer without governmental oversight.

He vowed that that would change.

About that aid package…

It seems the shift to a new Curaçao online gambling regulator is likely to happen, as the island is dependent on the Netherlands’ “National Package” of aid. Several publications note that Dekker believes Curaçao wouldn’t have considered the change without a push.

From Follow the Money:

“Nothing seems to move the local government to tackle the sector. The Dutch government is now trying in exchange for corona support.”

Reuters reports nearly 65% of the country’s population is vaccinated.

The Curaçao Chronicle detailed Dekker’s response to Parliament:

“‘The cabinet takes the concerns about illegal games of chance on Curaçao seriously and has therefore made agreements in the National Package about the reform of the offer in online games of chance.”

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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