Top rated casinos regulated by Curacao
Curacao – The Jurisdiction that Regulation Forgot
Regulatory Body means any government department or regulatory, statutory or other entity, committee, ombudsman or body which, whether under statute, rules, regulations, codes of practice or otherwise, is entitled to regulate, investigate or influence the matters dealt with in the Contract or any other affairs of the Customer;
When we discuss gambling licensing, one of the most prolifically used licenses by online gambling operators is the Curacao license. A plethora of sites targeting markets all over the world - black, white and grey - cite a license from this island state. And this is what we intend to look at in this article. What does holding a Curacao license actually mean for an operator? What protections does it offer players? The answers in our opinion should be worrying for anyone who enjoys gambling online.
Where is Curacao?
Curacao is an island state residing off the north coast of South America, with its closest neighboring countries Venezuela (on the mainland) and the island state of Aruba to the west. As of 2019 Curacao has a population of less than 200k people.
Curacao was part of the Caribbean island grouping previously known as the Netherland Antilles. As the name suggests the Netherland Antilles were part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherland Antilles was disbanded in 2010. This dissolution followed referendums on their political status held in each of the 5 constitute island states. Curacao and Sint Maarten voted to become autonomous states (outside of the Netherland Antilles) but remain part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
As part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, politically Curacao has its own parliament and functions autonomously in most matters. The matters that are reserved to the Dutch government are as follows:
- Foreign relations
- Matters relating to the Dutch Royal Family
- Standards for seafaring vessels flying the Dutch flag
- Human rights
- Legal certainty and good governance
Beyond the above, the Curacao parliament is free to establish their own laws.
How Does Gambling Licensing Work in Curacao?
Remote gambling was legalised in Curacao in 1993, falling under the remit of the Curacao Gaming Control Board (GCB), the governmental body responsible for managing the offline gambling sector. It should be noted that for a lengthy period after 1993 the GCB relinquished control of the remote gaming sector. Details of which agency specifically was responsible for the regulation of the remote gambling sector during this period are hard to come by, but in December 2018 the Curacao Minister of Finance announced the intention for the GBC to take over this remit again. When this will actually come into effect is as yet unclear.
Remote gambling licenses were issued under the National Ordinance on Offshore Games of Hazard. Licenses are issued in two basic forms:
Master License – This license is issued by the Ministry of Justice. It permits the holder to run an online gaming operation and also to sub-let their license out to other business that wish to offer online gambling services.
Sub-License – This category makes up the vast majority of the ‘Curacao licenses’ that are seen within the market. A sub-license is a license provided by a Master License holder to another company looking to provide an online gambling service.
The Root of the Problems with a Curacao License – Master License Holders
This is where the problems start to occur as far as players are concerned.
Starting with the Curacao Ministry of Justice, we have been unable to locate even a website for this governmental agency. As such it is not possible to direct readers to any resource detailing the standards that a Master License holder is required to meet to obtain a license, nor is it easy to confirm with any public register which organisations hold a Master License.
This ambiguity in the system makes it challenging to identify which organisations legitimately hold a Master License. It also means that there is a complete lack of any accountability on the part of the Master License holders.
At the present time we are aware of 4 groups that appear to be functioning as Master License holders:
♠ AntillePhone (this group does not appear to offer any user facing website beyond its license verification pages) (License No. 8048/JAZ)
♥ Curacao eGaming (License No. 1668/JAZ)
♣ Gaming Curacao (License No. 365/JAZ)
♦ Curacao Interactive Licensing (CIL) (This group do not operate any web presence at all that we could identify. They do not even provide license verification pages, so effectively any operator can claim a CIL license without consequence) (License No. 5536/JAZ)
Master License holders are the first and most significant failing in the Curacao regulatory system. As the consumer is not provided with any way to access the standards that these Master License holders are required to meet, there is no way for anyone to call the Master License holders to task. As such, Master License holders have no incentive to proactively put in place/enforce policies intended to protect players if these policies would reduce the revenue of the Master License holder.
When a system intentionally creates a lack of transparency, there is generally a reason for this and in general it is not a positive for the consumer. The Curacao regulatory system offers little information on what is required to hold a license in Curacao, little in the way of clear information as to who the Master License holders are and no information on what is require to gain a sub-license from any of these Master License holders.
With the rest of the system based on this weak foundation, there is effectively no significant regulatory system in Curacao.
Sub-licenses – a Problem Squared
Next, we have what are more reasonably recognisable as ‘Curacao licensees’: the Sub-Licenses.
Any time you encounter a remote gambling property that claims to be licensed in Curacao (do note that there are a large number of operators out there so rogue that they cannot even get a Curacao license and have made efforts to fake a license page), what you have really found is a Sub-License. A small gambling operator who has not gone to the Curacao government themselves to get a license, but who has bought a license from one of the Master License holders.
This lack of transparency - or perhaps not a lack of transparency but rather a lack of any standards that Sub-Licensees are actually required to meet? – effectively leaves Curacao Sub-Licensees free to make up their own rules. Who can challenge anything that a Curacao Sub-Licensee does as a breach of license when no-one is allowed to know what the license standards are?
Complaint Systems – a Problem Cubed
For many years the Curacao Master License holders showed little to no interest in player complaints at all. There does appear to be some changes on this front with 2 out of the 4 Master License holders now providing information on their license pages relating to complaint management.
♠ Antillephone License complaints
For those operators who are licensed by Antillephone, the license pages now include the below:
The problem with the above is twofold:
i) The statement restricts the circumstances under which players should contact Antillephone, instead directing players to “a number of independent bodies” to address their issue which should be “listed on the an [sic] Operator website”. This is an extremely woolly policy. Who does the regulator consider an “independent bod[y]”? Are their licensees required to comply with the rulings or these “independent bodies”? Without some definition, operators could direct players to parties that are of questionable independence or simply ignore any ruling they do not like. The restriction as it is only required the operator to direct players to independent bodies, it does not require them to engage with said bodies in any way.
More than simply the ambiguity of the statement, there does not seem to be any motivation at Antillephone to enforce this requirement. The operator whose license page is shown above does not appear to direct players to any independent bodies whatsoever. In fact we could find no information on the management of complaints anywhere in this operator’s documentation. In our experience, this is far from uncommon. Rather it is unusual to find Antillephone licensees that meet this requirement.
ii) The statement instructs that players should only contact Antillephone when they “believe an Operator is in breach of their license”. How can any player be reasonably expected to know if an operater is in breach of their license when there are no license conditions publicly available to them?
This system is less a complaints policy than it is an abdication of any responsibility on the part of the Master License holder to engage with complaints.
♥ Curacao eGaming License Complaints
The wording of the complaints statement on the Curacao eGaming site is remarkably similar – word for word identical for the majority of the text – to that on the Antillephone site. As such the commentary given above about Antillephone is equally valid for Curacao eGaming.
While this is an improvement over the Antillephone operator, as can be seen above, the operator offers no “independent bodies” and instead simply directs players to contact Curacao eGaming.
♣ Gaming Curacao License Complaints
At the time of writing this article, Gaming Curacao do not provide any information about complaint management on their license pages but they do provide a website and it is possible to contact them through it.
♦ Curacao Interactive Licensing (CIL) Complaints
This Master License holder appears to take no interest in interacting with players at all. They do not provide any way for players to contact them and fail to even offer their licensees a license verification page.
Our Experience Dealing with the Master License Holders
As an ADR functioning within the Maltese ecosystem and having served within the UK licensing system historically, with a decade of managing complaints both formally and informally and close to 5,000 cases reviewed in that time, I feel it can be reasonably asserted that I have a wealth of experience in the field of remote gambling disputes.
Sadly, it has been my experience over the time that I have been assisting players with complaints against remote gambling operators, that while many jurisdictions have progressed their regulatory standards, with the consequence of an improved experience and protections for players, Curacao has changed little and has remained ineffective, and in large part disinterested, in ensuring that the Master License holders engage in any credible oversight of their sub-licensees.
To expand on this, I am going to highlight some cases that we have been involved in where the Master License holders were involved to showcase our experience of the standards that the Master License holders are upholding:
Case Study 1 – Antillephone – 5PlusBet
The complaint report for this issue can be found here - https://thepogg.com/complaint/5plusbet-voids-64947-euro-payment-retroactively/.
Summary of the issue:
The player had played with 5PlusBet and won approximately 50k Euros. 5PlusBet refused to pay the player and presented 3 differing reasons for not doing so:
i) 5PlusBet had searched the internet for the player’s name and had located a complaint file on ThePOGG where the player’s name was left exposed - an error on our part. This complaint file related to a self-exclusion that the player had with an MGA licensed operator. The operator cited the following term as grounds for non-payment:
Specifically term 1.1.3.f. 5PlusBet informed us directly that they were relying on the latter section of the term: “not to be…. included (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) on any register or database of excluded players”.
Why is this justification for non-payment invalid? The operator was using a complaint from the player about a self-exclusion under the MGA licensing system. The MGA licensing system allows for self-exclusions to lifted by the player at any time as long as a 24 hour cooling off period is enforced for exclusions with a defined end date or a 7 day cooling-off period is enforced if the exclusion requested was indefinite (i.e. a player asks to exclude “forever”).
This is detailed in the MGA Directive 2 of 2018 – Player Protection Directive Part IV 11 (10):
“(10) A notice by the player decreasing a definite period of self-exclusion shall be effective only after the lapse of not less than twenty-four hours from the day on which the B2C licensee receives the notice, and a notice by the player revoking an indefinite period of self-exclusion shall be effective only after the lapse of not less than seven days from the day on which the B2C licensee receives the notice.”
ii) The player in question was a German citizen. Due to the current legal status of remote gambling in Germany, 5PlusBet also provided term 1.1.3.k as grounds for non-payment:
Why is this justification for non-payment invalid? This argument is invalid as the operator are demonstratably knowingly accepting traffic from Germany. We can establish this in the following ways:
- Looking at term 1.1.3.b we can clearly see that 5PlusBet provide a list of restricted countries. Germany is not included.
- While not included in term 1.1.3.b, if the 5PlusBet site is accessed from a UK IP address you receive the following message:
Clearly the UK is a restricted country.
Similarly when you access from a Netherlands IP address you get the following:
Clearly the Netherlands is a restricted country.
When accessing from a German IP address, the 5PlusBet site is fully available.
- When visiting the 5PlusBet site from a German IP address the site is geotargeted to specifically facilitate German traffic. This can be seen in the text language – which is in the German language – in the use of the German flag on the page and in the URL address bar where the displayed page is clearly a German specific variant:
- When accessing the registration form the drop-down menu that is presented to select your country of residence clearly includes ‘Germany’:
This list does not include either the UK or Netherlands.
There is no question that 5PlusBet was very clearly targeting German players. So the claim that Germany is not a country they would accept play from is clearly unfounded.
iii) The player no longer had access to the email address they registered their account with. As such 5PlusBet cited the following term as grounds for non-payment:
Why is this justification for non-payment invalid? Term 23.4 specifically prohibits providing “false” information. However, having tested the registration process at 5Plusbet, email verification is required. As such it can be reasonably concluded that the email address that the player used to register – while potentially out of date – clearly was not “false”.
Antillephone’s response to this complaint – Given the clear invalidity of the grounds for non-payment presented by the operator, and accepting that this player’s details should never have been exposed on our site, we assisted the player in taking the complaint to Antillephone. The Master License Holder’s response to the issue is that the MGA self-exclusion was not valid grounds for non-payment, however in their view the fact that the player was from Germany and the lack of email access was sufficient grounds for the operator not to pay the player and as such they would not intervene in the matter.
This ruling sets a very dangerous precedent. Effectively Antillephone sub-licensees are free to specifically target the German market, accept bets, retain losses and refuse to pay wins. The Master License holder has in this matter effectively endorsed the free-rolling of the entire German market. However, this precedent could easily be extended to any jurisdiction with laws prohibiting remote gambling, or indeed a licensing regime that the operator has not engaged with (like the UK).
Two further facts should be noted with regard to this case:
i) The Master License holder requires their Sub-Licensees to directs players to “independent bodies” to resolve complaints, but they declined to require 5PlusBet to honour our ruling that favoured the player. This suggests that while Antillephone require their sub-licensees to provide information about independent bodies where players can address complaints, they do not require sub-licensees to abide by the rulings of these independent bodies.
ii) The Master License holder never directly informed the player of the outcome of their claim. Instead choosing to communicate that only to us. This leaves us wondering how many complaints simply never receive any response.
Case Study 2 – Gaming Curacao – Casino Superlines
The complaint report for this issue can be found here - https://thepogg.com/complaint/casino-superlines-the-operator-allows-you-to-deposit-and-play-during-this-period-for-which-your-account-would-be-suspended/
Summary of the issue:
After losing over 50k Euros gambling, the player was on Live Chat effectively begging that Casino Superlines close their account and specifically telling the operator they were a gambling addict. The operator did not close the player’s account and allowed further play to occur resulting in a further 40k Euros in losses. Casino Superlines defended this action based on the following term:
“17.2. To use our self-exclusion option please call us or send an email to [email protected] with details of the account you wish to exclude and the period that you wish the self-exclusion to apply. If a specific period is not given, we will exclude you for the minimum duration.”
The argument was that Live Chat was neither email nor a phone call and as such the operator was not obligated to act on the self-exclusion request. At the very least this argument is morally repugnant. The operator was clearly aware that this player was a gambling addict and chose to exploit this vulnerability, profiting significantly, on what can at best be described as a technicality. The operator was unwilling to change their position so we directed the player to contact Gaming Curacao.
Gaming Curacao’s response to this complaint – Ultimately this player was refunded all losses after the point where they informed Casino Superlines of their gambling addiction. So why is this issue being highlighted as a Case Study? Because of the manner in which that outcome was reached.
Two months after the player submitted their complaint to Gaming Curacao the Master License holder responded informing the player that they took “responsible gaming very seriously”, had reviewed the Live Chat records that the player had sent through and – citing term 17.2 – requesting that the player provide records of an email or phone call where the player requested a self-exclusion.
The subtext to the Master License holder’s message is very clear – that the Live Chat records were insufficient to support the player’s claim and that based on term 17.2 the player needed to make a self-exclusion request only via either Live Chat or phone call. There would be no need to review an email or phone call – which the operator knew had not occurred – if the Live Chat records had been deemed sufficient.
At this juncture, we contacted the Master License holder and made clear our position that an operator failing to act to protect a vulnerable player and knowingly allowing them to continue to access gaming services in the middle of what was clearly a crisis period is not “taking responsible gambling very seriously” by any reasonable definition of the expression, that this was a “black and white” matter and if the operator’s actions were supported this would result in us using the case as an example of poor practice that would be highlighted with the launch of our responsible gambling tool BetBlocker.
At this stage the operator was directed by the regulator to resolve the matter. Sadly, that is not where the matter concluded. Instead of refunding the losses after the relevant Live Chat conversation the operator engaged a dialogue with the player where they sought a ‘settlement’ of the matter that the player was not allowed to disclose and that would require the player to inform both Gaming Curacao and ourselves that the considered the matter closed. The only reason for the operator to seek a privacy enforcement in this matter is if they did not intend to pay the full due balance. As such we again had to contact the Master License holder, point out that this was unacceptable. Only at this point was the operator force to return the full outstanding balance.
Case Study 3 – Curacao eGaming
To call this a ‘Case Study’ at all is misleading. The truth is that in over a decade of running ThePOGG to the best of my recollection I cannot recall encountering a single player who has received a positive outcome through contacting Curacao eGaming. On numerous occasions we have either directly submitted complaints on the behalf of players or supported players while they have submitted their complaints. We have never seen a single instance of any complaint submitted via the Curacao eGaming form even receiving a response. Perhaps we have just been unlucky and the majority of submissions do receive a response. But with blunt honesty, I doubt that.
Informally, a person within the industry – who I will not name – who was part of a business that held a Curacao eGaming Sub-License reflected on their experiences with this system being that complaints were simply put “straight into the bin without being read”. We could not comment on the truth of that statement, but the statement does seem to mirror the real-world experience we have had trying to contact this Master License holder.
It should be noted that while we have never seen any operator advertising this service, and we can find no clear path where users can find this information on the Curacao eGaming website (we found this via a site search in Google), Curacao eGaming do appear to be offering a license wide self-exclusion program. Ordinarily we would consider any regulator that implements such a system to be a significant positive, however a poorly implemented system has the potential to do more damage to vulnerable players than no system and the dating in the file name suggests that this document was published in 2019, suggesting it was created but never implemented.
Case Studies Conclusions
While the above case studies are snapshots of individual issues rather than large-scale data analysis, they are broadly reflective of the experience that we and the players we have interacted with have received when engaging with the Curacao licensing system. In our opinion, the actions of the current Master License holders all too often bear more in common with lawyers representing their clients than they do with an impartial regulatory agency looking to ensure fair treatment of consumers.
We would single out Curacao Interactive Licensing (CIL) for criticism beyond the 3 above Master License holders due to their apparent disinterest in how their licensees treat players, but the blunt truth is that where the other Master License holders are involving themselves in player disputes, in our opinion they largely appear to be validating Sub-Licensee bad practice rather than protecting consumer rights.
Other Problematic Practices
The blunt truth is that the problems with the Curacao Master License holders appear to be far more systemic than mismanagement of player complaints. There are many problematic practices that Sub-Licensees of the Curacao system are allowed to engage in. A few of these are detailed below:
♠ Exploiting gambling addiction: Widespread practice amongst Curacao licensees seem intended to exploit gambling addiction rather than prevent it or minimise harm to vulnerable players. Practices that we have commonly encountered:
i) Prohibiting gambling addicts – as seen in Case Study 1, many operators build in vague terms stating that you are prohibited from signing-up if you are a gambling addict. These terms are then enforced in a punitive manner. Players are allowed to sign-up and play. When they lose, the operator is happy to retain their losses. If they happen to win a significant sum, the operator then conducts online searches, and if they can identify any resource indicating that the player may be a gambling addict the operator then seeks to use this as grounds for non-payment of winnings.
In this manner the operator freerolls gambling addicts – there is no possibility for the vulnerable player to win, only to lose.
ii) Group-wide self-exclusions – Ordinarily we would support any group of operators who chose to carry over self-exclusions to all properties on their license. This is basic good practice that more regulatory agencies should be requiring. However, amongst Curacao Sub-Licensees the common practice is to extend the self-exclusion without telling the player that this has happened, conducting no substantive checks to ensure a player does not sign-up again at another property and providing no reasonable means for a player to know where their exclusion has been extended to.
The consequence of this is that a player excludes at Casino A then later signs-up to Casino B. The player has no notion that Casino A and Casino B are operated by the same people. Casino B conducts no checks to see if there was a previous exclusion at Casino A. They accept the player’s wagering as long as the player is losing. If the player wins, they then cite the self-exclusion at Casino A as grounds for non-payment.
Once again the operator freerolls gambling addicts, exploiting gambling addiction.
Responsible gambling policies are fundamentally intended to protect players who are vulnerable to playing too much. These policies do the opposite. The amplify the damage being caused to gambling addicts.
♥ Vague country restrictions – Again as seen in Case Study 1, many Curacao Sub-Licensees will look to foist off the responsibility for knowing the legal status of gambling in any given country to the player. The operator – being a business functioning within the remote gambling sector – is far better placed to know the restrictions in any given market and has easy access to the technology that would allow them to restrict players from any market that they are uncomfortable accessing. The operator then presents their services to markets they know that they cannot legally access, accepts play, retains losses but looks to deny wins where they occur.
♣ Max bet terms on non-bonus play – One particular group of Curacao Sub-Licensees – a group that left the Malta Gaming Authority regulatory system soon after they found out that the regulator would not allow them to engage this practice – enforces a maximum allowed bet term on non-bonus play.
Players are largely familiar with maximum bet terms. Almost every bonus offer available today carries them. However, when they are built into a bonus contract the player naturally understands that there are going to be additional restrictions that they have to be aware of. They are being given an incentive/advantage in exchange for agreeing to some limiting restrictions. That is not the case when the player is simply playing with their own money.
Imagine a situation where you walk into an offline casino. You go up to a Blackjack table, change €150 into chips. The table limits are clearly posted: €5-€250. You place a bet of €50 on two different hands and the dealer commences with the round. At the end of the round you have one winning hand and one losing hand. The dealer takes the losing bet but then refuses to pay your winning hand. They tell you that the maximum allowed bet is 30% of your buy-in and that you should have checked the small print at the front door. Would that seem reasonable to you, when you were playing within clear advertised table limits that there was an additional restriction buried in terms and conditions? Would it seem reasonable to you that, despite being offered no additional incentives, you were subjected to hidden ‘small print’ that was contrary to your natural expectations? Would it seem reasonable to you that they count the losing bet as valid while the winning bet is considered void? The answer is obvious.
The reality is actually worse than the above hypothetical. The last case we reviewed against this group under the MGA license saw the operator in question not only refuse to pay out winnings, not simply consider violating bets void, not even consider winning violating bets void while retaining losing bets. The operator simply retained the entire balance. So to continue the analogy above, the dealer takes the losing bet, takes the winning bet then reaches across the table and takes the other €50 you bought in for but hadn’t bet.
This group has found a home with Gaming Curacao and continues to use these terms.
Licensing Highly Questionable Operators
And this is the consequence of the lax regulatory standards of the Curacao licensing system. Operators who would be rejected from any other licensing system find themselves welcomed by the Curacao Master License holders. Here are just a handful of examples.
♠ The Extended Game Tech Group
This group is one of the most pervasive on the black market and is one that we’ve written about repeatedly:
You name it, this group has done it. Max bets on non-bonus play? Check. Offered fake games? Check. Used responsible gambling policies to prey on vulnerable players? Check. Let a player begging to be excluded play on (Case Study 2)? Check. Targeting gambling addicts? Check.
There are few ethical lines within the online gambling market that this group has not crossed. And many of their properties have found a happy home with Gaming Curacao.
♥ The Club World Group
This one also appears to be involved with the Game Tech Group. A group of operators specifically targeting the US black market, there were legal battles in the UK amongst the owners, the Fester family for control of the operator. For players the wrong brothers appear to have won. The first thing they appear to have done was take advice from AffPower (the Game Tech Group) then moved on to detag affiliate referred players to get out of paying their marketing partners.
Gaming Curacao also licenses this group.
A big group that sponsors a number of big sports teams. They have also been identified connected to servers that are confirmed to have been distributing fake games.
♦ PH Casino
To be clear at the outset, we have no particular moral issue with adult material. As long as all parties involved are consenting adults, this is not a problem. However, every reputable regulator prohibits gambling licensees from being associated with drink, drugs, and sex in their branding. Curacao eGaming breaks away from the norm in this respect and are home to the PornHub branded group.
This group are also entirely non-responsive to the majority of complaints we have directed to them. A non-responsive operator and a non-responsive regulator make for a very bad combination for players.
♠ Danguad Group
Defunct now (or at least rebranded), but another group that made Curacao eGaming their home.
This group racked up a host of serious player issues, including being caught out changing terms to justify non-payment after players had won (on two separate occasions), claiming that a max bet had occurred on a game and in a manner that it could not possibly have occurred, accepting bets from jurisdictions they then refused to pay (like Case Study 1) and one of their operators was even identified sending us abusive communications on Facebook. All in all a highly questionable group.
Another group that held a Gaming Curacao license. In all fairness it should be noted that Gaming Curacao did ultimately revoke this operator’s license, but it is still worth recognising the history of another Curacao licensed property.
This operator refused to pay a number of players on invalid grounds, even when Gaming Curacao directed them to, then shut-up shop and disappeared. They later re-opened with a MGA/UKGC white label license. When we pointed out that the FashionTV Gaming Group, which owned both properties, had failed to pay players and lost their previous Curacao license we were met with legal threats. When we refused to remove the material we found ourselves subjected to a large scale negative SEO attack involving bad links being pointed to pages on our site (and others) that were critical of the FashionTV properties. You can find further information on this group below:
The FashionTV Gaming Group now appears to have opened another property on the Curacao Interactive Licensing (CIL) Master License – fashiontvplay.com
Curacao vs Netherlands
For a long time now Curacao has skated very close to the lines in terms of their relationship with the Netherlands. While many powers are devolved from the Netherlands central government to the Curacao Parliament, the Netherlands has repeatedly voiced dissatisfaction with the nature of the remote gambling industry in Curacao.
In what appears to have been a response to this increasing pressure, the Master License holders took action in 2018 to prohibit their Sub-Licensees from accepting Dutch players. This was an effort to discourage further interest in the activities of businesses in Curacao by the Netherlands’ government. The rationale being that if Dutch citizens were no longer impacted by the activities of Curacao licensees there would be less political interest in pressuring the Curacao Parliament to make changes to the regulatory structure that was currently in place.
Restricting Dutch players has not seemed to have the intended effect. In late 2020, during the middle of the Covid19 pandemic, Curacao had to be bailed out by the Netherlands’ government. Part of the conditions that have been put in place for Curacao to receive the third instalment of the bailout package requires that Curacao puts in place an independent regulatory system by September 2021.
This action is long overdue. The Dutch authorities have made a habit of imposing penalties and fines on gambling businesses in other jurisdictions that have accepted Dutch players without a license, all while one of the constituent states of the Kingdom of the Netherlands has been the single worst offender for hosting gambling companies that show no respect for the laws of any other country. There is a strong case to be argued that the Dutch government complaining about any gambling operator 'illegally' accepting Dutch traffic is hypocritical in the extreme.
Could Master License holders be Held Legally Accountable for Sub-License Actions?
Within the professional interactions that I engage in my day-to-day role, the Curacao regulatory system is a frequent topic of conversation. One aspect of this subject has been raised frequently and that is the – supposed – anxiety amongst the current Master License holders relating to their potential legal liability for the actions of Sub-Licensees.
The truth is that in any other regulatory jurisdiction a ‘Master License’ would simply be called a ‘white label provider’. This structure of business is commonplace. White Hat Gaming, Aspire Global, Nektan, Progress Play, Jumpman Gaming, these are all just white label providers – businesses who obtain a license and other infrastructure then manage the operations of smaller businesses that want to offer a gambling service. The difference is that in any other major regulatory jurisdiction the white label provider is held responsible by the regulator for the actions of their Sub-Licensees. If a Sub-Licensee breaches the license requirements it is the white label provider that ultimately faces sanctions and potential financial penalties.
To date, the Curacao government appears to have effectively handed off complete authority to the Master License holders to regulate the market. This is a marked distinction between Curacao and other jurisdictions. Given that the Curacao government appears to be moving toward more substantive regulation (off the back of increased pressure from the Netherlands' government) it is possible that the Master License holders will ultimately find their position shifting substantially in the near future and they may face being held accountable for the actions of their Sub-Licensees.
Beyond this though there seems to be concern that this may not simply be a case what could potentially happen in the future. We have repeatedly heard, from several different sources, that some Master License holders are concerned that if a legal challenge was mounted in the Curacao courts to hold these companies accountable for the actions of their Sub-Licensees, that the outcome would be far from guaranteed to favour them. It would take a brave player or group of players, with deep pockets to consider mounting this type of challenge, but if a court was to rule that a Master License holder could be held accountable for the actions of their Sub-Licensees, it would set a precedent that in our opinion could potentially collapse the entire Curacao licensing system.
The Future for Curacao Regulation
This article is titled ‘Curacao: The Jurisdiction that Regulation Forgot’ in an obvious play on the classic film/novel ‘The Land that Time Forgot’. I could have easily left it as ‘The Jurisdiction that Time Forgot’ as the practices we see when dealing with Curacao licensed operators are decades out of date. Or perhaps ‘The Jurisdiction that Forgot Regulation’ would be more appropriate. However that still is not quite right. Curacao has not ‘forgotten’ anything. It has wilfully chosen not to enforce any real regulation and to allow highly questionable practices to be undertaken by their ‘licensees’. Our experience of the Master License holders to date has, in our opinion, shown a willingness to not only turn a blind eye to, but actively validate their Sub-Licensees engaging in practices that would never be tolerated in any other well-regulated jurisdiction.
The pressure being applied by the Netherlands' government appears to be having some impact. We have been approached by groups within the industry who are interested in engaging our ADR service for their Curacao licenses. This suggests that there is a fundamental change starting to happen. However, as matters currently stand we would not consider functioning as an ADR for this licensing system. The Master License holders have set a standard that is so low that we would never associate our names with it. To do so would damage our brand and our credibility. It would jeopardise our ability to function in better-regarded markets. Having a positive relationship with the other major ADRs functioning within the remote gambling sector, I strongly doubt that these groups would be prepared to tarnish their reputation by association with the current Curacao Master License holders either.
Before a credible licensing system could be engaged within Curacao multiple things would have to happen. In all likelihood, the current Master License holders need to be removed from any position of responsibility for player protection. An ADR system would be a positive step forward, but even to engage that, clear standards would need to be published that licensees need to adhere to. Without these standards there is nothing for ADRs to enforce.
Curacao has a long way to go to repair a very damaged reputation as an issuer of gambling licenses, but other island states have demonstrated that it is entirely possible to put together credible regulatory systems and foster a strong remote gambling market to bolster their economy. There is no question that Curacao could achieve the same if the will exists to exorcise the entrenched parties that have such a clear stake in preventing real regulation from being put in place.