Since online gambling was legalised in October 2021, more than 450,000 new gamblers including vulnerable young adults started betting, according to the NRC.
Citing evidence from hundreds of internal government documents obtained through the Open Government Act, the NRC claims government ministers were warned by gambling regulators that advertising legal online gambling would lead to problems. Instead, it suggests, they appear to have been swayed by the gambling industry “and chose a liberal advertising policy.”
According to the paper, the government wanted gamblers who already played on illegal foreign websites to find their way to Dutch legal gambling sites instead.
However glossy advertisements on billboards, television, bus stops, radio and online and featuring, among others, illusionist Hans Klok, model Kim Feenstra and footballer Wesley Sneijder, also created a new market of hundreds of thousands of people who had never before placed a bet.
An industry-wide advertising code was not ready before online gambling was legalised, which led the Consumentenbond consumer association to walk out of consultations. “Apparently, the commercial interest of the gambling industry outweighs the welfare of consumers,” the Consumentenbond’s director Sandra Molenaar told NRC.
NRC says a target to get 80% of Dutch players gambling on a legal website within three years was met within a few months due to the new influx. “No less than 61 percent of the 762,000 Dutch online gamblers are new,” wrote the NRC, analysing a government briefing. “And included among them is an above-average number of young adults: the group that should be protected.”
Last weekend, advertising restrictions on “untargeted” online gambling came into effect but it is still possible to sponsor TV programmes, events and sports teams. Online advertising is permitted provided it targets people aged 24 and older.
NRC claimed a new industry has been created in the couple of years between the Netherlands legalising online gambling and the advertising ban, with a turnover of more than €1 billion. The Gaming Authority told Dutch News that the Netherlands has more than 750,000 internet gamblers who typically lose €310 per person per month.
The main advertiser is the state-owned Toto gambling operator, known for football betting, although nine other companies including state-owned Holland Casino, have also spent large sums on advertising.
In January 2022, consumer programme Kassa found that Toto was sending advertisements to young adults via email, which is illegal. Although Toto called it a grey area, it was fined €400,000 by regulators. Four other gambling companies have also been fined for targeting advertising to young adults.
Opposition to online gambling advertising grew quickly after its introduction and SP parliament member Michiel van Nispen called for an advertising ban. This was supported by a parliamentary majority.
The Trimbos Institute of mental health and addiction also complained to the Gaming Authority. They called the amount of advertising “shocking,” and according to a report seen by NRC, told regulators: “It is actually very simple. The more advertising, the bigger the market.”
Belgian justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said when announcing a more comprehensive ban on gambling advertising earlier this month: “Too many families have been ruined by gambling. 40% of the profits of gambling companies come from people with gambling problems. That has to stop. With this decision, we will put an end to the devastating tsunami of gambling advertising.”
A spokesman for the Dutch justice ministry told Dutch News figures in the NRC report were based on government briefings. The documents from its freedom of information request should be published this month.