SBC Leaders: Niels Onkenhout on the ‘excitement’ and ‘panic’ of the Dutch newly-regulated market

The Netherlands
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Niels Onkenhout, CEO of the Dutch National Lottery, has emphasised the significant impact of the newly-regulated market on companies in the Netherlands.

Speaking on the SBC Leaders Podcast, Onkenhout described to SBC’s Global Relations Director Kelly Kehn how the new regulations, which came into force on October 1, 2021, have been received in the country.

“There’s two sides of that coin,” Onkenhout explained. “There’s excitement still going on, and the other side is the panic among politicians and regulators on the sheer level of advertising and how we are leading the younger people into the ‘abyss’ already after three or four months.

“An advertising ban, a new government in the Netherlands, one after the other a minister is called into Parliament to be questioned on how this can all come about.”

Onkenhout added that the implementation of the ‘incredibly detailed’ regulations have had a crippling impact on some firms which, in effect, has led to growth for those left standing, including his own company.

“They were forced by the Dutch government to turn their screens black and we saw profit warnings from some of the publicly quoted companies, where suddenly they had a huge hit.

“So, we had a good sense of how this was really quite hurtful. When these operators went black, their screens went black. 5% of their customers went into even worse, really illegal areas.

“The other 95% probably ended up with the ten operators who got a licence, of which the Dutch National Lottery is one.”

As the oldest lottery worldwide, Onkenhout suggests its longevity and familiarity with the market helps his firm continue to thrive.

“You are very well plugged into Dutch society. You understand what the emotions are and how the different stakeholders act and what their beliefs are, and how you can anticipate this.

“The fact that we are majority state-owned helps us to understand much better what happens in the political arena and because of the Netherlands being so late in regulating these markets, we could draw from the experience of other countries where things went wrong or things didn’t work out very well.”

There could be increased competition in the next couple months, though, as Onkenhout expects another ten licensees to enter the market, but he is confident there will be ‘good winnings’ for all companies concerned.

The Dutch National Lottery is also stepping up its efforts to protect young adults, after the Kansspelautereit (KSA) issued a warning to all licensed operators on their advertising standards with regards to the protection of minors.

“We need to compete head on with increased competition, depositing limits, playing limits. This is all very important to us because we have that responsibility and position in Dutch society.

“We have – for instance – loss restriction, which is not required by law. There’s a lot of focus in Holland on protecting young adults between the age of 18 and 23 years old. We have even gone a step further.

“You are not allowed to lose more than €400 a month when you’re in that age group – it’s just not possible in our company. That’s not something other companies do.”

Finally, Onkenhout discussed the potential of future changes in the industry, particularly pertaining to the term ‘problem player’.

“Everybody understands that when you’re a problem player, you’re not going to call,” he explained. “So, have a uniform definition of what a problem player is for every player in the markets in the Netherlands so that we can really address those problems.

“Our technology monitors playing behaviour and we have an intervention model, which is very active. There’s a lot of discussion around the protection of young adults, but what happens if somebody is 92 and plays €25,000 ? Shouldn’t we talk about that as well? If you think about deposits, maybe every company has a deposit limit. But if somebody has six accounts, that’s six times a day a person can deposit.

“Shouldn’t we have some kind of blockchain technology where we link all that data into some kind of foundation, where when somebody has deposited a certain amount at the Dutch National Lottery, that day he cannot deposit at another company because the technology will prohibit it?

“Those are things which I would really be proud of if I could have an impact. I think that the industry itself should proactively make that happen, as opposed to waiting until the regulator or the politicians.”