The Dutch Gaming Authority (KSA) has fined Germany’s Bet-at-home.com €410,000 for targeting gamblers in the Netherlands without a licence, after the regulator found the company in violation of its prioritisation criteria.
The Frankfurt-listed online gambling operator was sanctioned for offering unlicensed games of chance to Dutch residents and fell afoul of criteria that sees the regulator targeting websites that feature advertising or symbols using the Dutch language.
The crackdown could be contentious, given that the Dutch parliament has yet to pass an online gambling licensing regime.
"In our view, the sanction is unjustified," a Bet-at-Home spokesman said today. "We reserve the right to take legal measures."
But the KSA has argued that a September court judgment against Stockholm-listed Betsson Group backs its view that it has the power to penalise operators targeting Dutch gamblers.
Bet-at-Home.com Entertainment, the company’s Austria-based technology unit, was fined €210,000 and Malta-based Bet-at-Home Internet was fined €200,000, as revealed in documents unveiled on Tuesday.
The company improperly offered €50 betting bonuses plus cash-back offers in countries including the Netherlands and Dutch customers were eligible for a contest to win a Porsche 911 sports car, according to the documents.
The Dutch flag was visible in a scoreboard listing top winners and customers were allowed to make some transactions with the popular Dutch electronics payments service iDEAL, the KSA said.
That “the position of the participants is not regulated and the negative consequences of excessive participation [in gambling] can be considerable, reinforces the view of the board of directors that the violation is very serious”, the KSA wrote.
Bet-at-Home's fine is quite high by Dutch standards, and parties in similar circumstances with other regulators who felt they had grounds have chosen to appeal, said Roelien van Neck, an attorney with Bird & Bird in The Hague.
Dutch regulatory agencies typically keep fines low to reduce the incentive to appeal, which gives a violation a chance to enter case law, she said.
Whether the German company chooses to appeal should be a commercial decision, not a legal one, added van Neck, noting that the KSA would have no legal basis for denying the company a licence simply because it chose to appeal a fine.
That the KSA zeroed in on Bet-at-Home's use of iDEAL payments processing is not a surprise because it is so "typically Dutch", she said. "It's much better to use a well-known credit card like Visa or Mastercard." Using iDEAL, "it's clear you are addressing a Dutch audience".
The investigation was launched after the KSA was notified of Bet-at-Home advertisements on Eurosport television broadcasts between May 27 and 31, 2017, the documents said.
The company argued that the commercials were in English and, therefore, not targeting Dutch consumers, but the KSA responded that they nevertheless appeared on broadcasts available in the Netherlands.
Only Toto, part of the Dutch Lottery (Nederlandsloterij), can legally offer sports betting in the Netherlands and online operators should use geo-blocking to bar Dutch customers, the regulator said.
The prioritisation criteria have been in place for several years, but last May the KSA tightened them, adding that it would no longer give warnings.
The list of factors determining whether a company is illegally targeting Dutch gamblers was also expanded to add Dutch symbols such as pictures of clogs or windmills, and now even includes the use of iDEAL, which claims a 57 percent market share of Dutch online and mobile transactions.
Bet-at-Home offered 140 games, 11 sports, six live games and five virtual markets to Dutch customers, according to the KSA.
Dutch gambling legislation was originally targeted for January 2015 implementation, but has now been delayed to 2019 or 2020.