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Online Poker Legalization in the Netherlands May be Imminent

By Nathan Carroll, Rakeback.com Staff Writer

Netherlands Poker

For a government that’s generally loose/passive with prostitution and marijuana use, the Dutch have been surprisingly tight/aggressive on internet gambling. For most of the 2000s, they refused to budge in their stance against it, even in the face of pressure from European gambling operators.  In June, a case raised by Betfair and Ladbrokes went to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that the Netherlands was indeed allowed to ban online gambling in the name of social preservation. The ruling seemed to close the door on sanctioned online poker in the Netherlands. Although most internationally located online poker operators continue to serve Dutch customers, they do so technically in violation of current statutes.

However, the Dutch-language newspaper Telegraaf reported this week in a brief article that the new administration is hoping to sell or auction gambling licenses that would allow foreign companies to conduct online wagering operations in the Netherlands. They say that legalization could raise as much as €270 million in tax revenue.

Their speculation follows several events of the past year that suggest the current administration in the Netherlands will be more amenable to the idea of a legal online poker market than the previous government leaders had been.

In August of this year, the country’s Online Gambling Advisory Committee–formed shortly before at the behest of the Dutch Ministry of Justice–suggested that a limited number of licenses be distributed to online poker operators.

That suggestion in turn closely followed a court ruling which declared poker to be a game of skill rather than chance. Under Dutch law, the right to operate games of chance is held exclusively by the government, which took advantage of the opportunity by raising revenues through state-run casinos. Up until July, this meant that anyone operating a real money poker game–live or online–was in violation of the law.

Poker’s classification as a game of skill opened the door to legally operated ring games and tournaments in the country. In fact, a man who was arrested for organizing a tournament in 2006 may have received the most benefit from the ruling: shortly afterwards, he was declared to be not guilty.

Unfortunately, the Dutch state held on to its archaic monopoly rights with regards to online gambling. The state-run lotto site is still the only legally sanctioned way to gamble online in the Netherlands.

However, the August report by the Online Gambling Advisory Committee raised the option of online poker while proposing to uphold the ban on games of chance. Paralleling the argument that is often made in the U.S., the report realizes that online poker will go on–legal or not–and states that its goal is to provide a safe and regulated environment. “This regime should be explicitly designed to bring illegal poker operators under a legal regime,” explains the report.

Although the report signaled the coming of a new era in the story of Dutch online poker, things stayed quiet on the legislative front for a few months following its release. Until now, it seems.

The Telegraaf article is long on promise, but short on details. They make only a vague reference to “sources at The Hague,” while keeping their real reasoning for printing such a speculation strictly to themselves. That said, the Telegraaf is one of the Netherlands’ most respected newspaper and has a daily circulation of approximately 700,000.

Presumably, they know something they’re not telling us just yet. In the coming weeks, poker news media–as well as respected Dutch pros like Marcel Luske, Rolf Slotboom, and Lex Veldhuis–will keep a close eye on the situation while hoping that the Telegraaf’s claims are proved correct.

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