Rogue Online Gaming Hub Curaçao Vows to Clean Up Its Act in Return for COVID-19 Rescue Package

Posted on: November 15, 2020, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: November 15, 2020, 10:25h.

Curaçao’s days as a haven for shady online gambling sites may be numbered. A financial bailout package from the Dutch government this month comes with conditions — the island has been told to clean up its act.

Curaçao’s Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath has accepted the terms of the Dutch bailout package following a period of negotiation. (Image: ANP/Lex van Lieshout)

Travel restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the coronavirus have decimated the Caribbean island’s tourism industry. Earlier this month, the Netherlands agreed to release the third tranche of a €125 million ($148 million) support package. In return, Curaçao must abide by certain conditions. These involve adopting structural reforms that include tackling economic and financial crime, and establishing an independent regulator for its online gaming sector.

Curaçao is part of the Dutch Caribbean, a former colony that is now an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. But its status as an extremely lax regulator of online gambling has long vexed its former colonial master.

The Dutch government is in the process of launching its own domestic licensing regime, and has had enough of Curaçao-licensed gambling sites flouting Dutch laws by targeting players within the Netherlands.

Four Master Licenses

Curaçao was an early adopter of online gaming. It began licensing operators in 1996, at the very dawn of the industry. In fact, it has been using the same four licenses ever since.

The government has only ever issued four master licenses, which give their holders the power to grant sub-licenses to pretty much anyone. The master licensees — Cyberluck Curaçao, Gaming Curaçao, Curaçao Interactive Licensing, and Antillephone — also supply turnkey online gaming solutions to prospective operators.

Sub-licenses are relatively inexpensive and quick and easy to acquire. Once an operator is up and running, taxes are low, regulatory oversight is almost non-existent, and operators are free to target whichever markets they wish, regardless of the laws in those markets.  

Not all operators licensed in Curaçao are bad.  But those that are can thrive in a jurisdiction where oversight is slack.

New Enforcer

Now, with its economy expected to shrink by 30 percent, Curaçao has little choice but to accept the terms that accompany the financial aid package. The island’s government has been given until September 2021 to establish a gaming control board. That will be charged with ensuring that all Curacao license holders “comply with the laws and regulations in which they operate.” The regulator will also be required to rigorously enforce anti-money laundering measures.

The news was welcomed by Dutch member of parliament Ronald van Raak, who claims inadequate oversight of the sector is threatening political stability in the Dutch Caribbean.

International crime is so great on the islands that malicious politicians have a lot of power and money, and well-meaning people have no chance,” he told the Dutch parliament.

“On Saint Maarten, Curaçao, and increasingly also on Aruba, you see that the underworld, the gambling mafia, is the boss. Especially with online gambling, you see that billions are being laundered, mainly drug money,” he claimed. “It is a system that is kept up and running by KPMG, by banks, by Dutch tax specialists. “