Tens of thousands of people have been hit by financial problems as a result of the way online gambling was legalised three years ago, the national watchdog on addiction has warned.
Arnt Schellekens called on the government to take much stronger measures to tackle addiction and debt, which have mushroomed since the law was changed in 2021.
The government believed a regulated legal market would make it easier to help people who were gambling illegally on foreign websites, but the measures led to an explosion in people becoming addicted.
“Tens of thousands of people, often young people, end up completely stranded through online gambling,” Schellekens said. “It devastates whole families. Some people see no alternative to taking their own lives.”
Legal protection minister Franc Weerwind has imposed tighter regulations in recent months, including a spending limit of €350 per day, but Schellekens said an overhaul of the system was needed.
“The plans are nothing like enough to get on top of the problems we have now,” he said.
He added that measures like the spending limit were “sticking-plaster” solutions that would have little real impact.
“The problem is it’s a limit per provider. But we have more than 20 providers. So if you hit your limit, you can just go to another provider and carry on gambling. We need a single universal limit.”
Schellekens said the owners of gambling sites should be made legally liable for the effects of severe addiction. “The duty of care should lie with gambling companies,” he said.
“And I have very little faith in those companies, whose aim is to earn money after all, to carry out that duty properly. So we need to bring in an external operator.”
Nando Boots, 29, who developed a gambling addiction at the age of 19, told RTL Nieuws that he lost his whole life, including his job and his friends, as his habit worsened.
“It began with putting down a tenner,” he said. “Then it became €100, and then €1,000. It went from bad to worse. One evening I lost €30,000.”
Boots managed to end his addiction by going to a rehabilitation clinic in Scotland. “I just found it very tough to stop,” he said. “What I feel worst about is that I hurt other people.”
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