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Interview with Arjan Veer - online gambling researcher

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What follows is an interview with Arjan Veer, a prominent researcher in online gambling. He acted as legal adviser to the Netherlands' largest national lottery and has conducted several research projects on Internet gambling.

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This is a reprint of the interview.

How did you get where you are today?

"It was obvious that someone banged the drums, but not as loud as it seemed." I was born in 1968 in the Dutch province, Zeeland, one of the most interesting parts of the Netherlands. After I finished high school, I went to Rotterdam to study economics at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. After two years, I switched to Erasmus University Law School. I studied criminal law, and got a law degree in 1992. Working as an assistant for one of the department's professors, I got involved in a study of the Dutch gambling market. After some desk research, I was asked to start Ph.D. research. Being a jurist, I did research into the legal aspects of the Dutch gambling policy. I finished my thesis in June 1998. I took my first steps on the Internet in early 1993, and I was immediately fascinated, although it was only in black an white and very static. New software, new browsers, and powerful computers made it only better. I looked at the developments in the interactive field as well as I looked at the traditional gaming market. I found it striking to see what was going on. In a way, my Gambling Corner was created to make clear what was going on. After several presentations and an article in a major Dutch legal magazine, I was asked to do a study into interactive gaming; a study conducted by the Dutch gaming licensees and the Dutch Gaming Control Board. Recently the Dutch government announced that the findings of this study will be used to implement Internet gambling in Holland. My job at the Dutch national lottery, SENS, is to look for strategic developments and how to implement them into our business. Internet gaming is a very big part of this.

What kinds of changes do you perceive in the American online gaming industry?

"If he (the player) wants individual games or multiplayer-type games, he will get it." The ongoing discussion about the Kyl/McCollum Bill is, in my view, an example of making new technology a legal issue.

Why state beforehand that everything should be forbidden? What 's up with maintaining such rules?

Having a legal background myself (note: Arjan Veer got a PhD related to gambling laws), I dare to state that legal people create their own world, which is in many cases not even close to reality... Visiting various conferences about Internet gambling in the United States made it clear to me that there is still a long way to go, even when the proposed bills come into action. And as always with these judicial and political questions, everyone was trying to maintain a possibility to escape the rules. By doing so, it was obvious that someone banged the drums, but not as loud as it seemed. One more thing about the US is that I see big, call them traditional, manufacturers of lottery and casino equipment (Gtech, Ballys) and casino operators now looking at the Internet market. And they are big spenders... These are the ones that will rock the boat in the end.

What are your comments on Australia's transformation?

The various territories have shown that you can either have an aversive reaction to online gaming activities -like in the USA- or you can be more pragmatic.

Why not try to set up a system in which both players and beneficiaries are safeguarded?

(Although I question if players from Belgium, Iceland, Brazil, or Japan will be attracted by an initiative from Down Under.) Translating sites into a more regionalized supply of games will, of course, help. The Australian attitude toward Internet gambling shows some guts and is surely an example for many other countries. (The word 'nambling' was invented by an Australian!) "Being a jurist myself, I can say that it is strange to have no visible place where a 'crime' took place. " More and more governments are realizing the fact that the Internet is here to stay. Internet is getting more accepted, cheaper, more reliable. After some successful tryouts of the Finnish national lottery, Veikkaus; the Swedes followed that example. And now the Austrians operate their Web Club and we, as Dutch, are getting the opportunity... all well-regulated, all well-equipped, all within the scope of national gaming policies and regulations. This means that there will be no 'cross border' selling; meaning that the Internet games will only be available for inhabitants of a certain country. Veikkaus, for instance, works with social security numbers and Austrian bank accounts. Protection of privacy and the use of secure payment systems is absolutely required. In a way, the European Commission is asking that as well. They did not yet state any rules about Internet gaming. I think it will take some time before any action will be undertaken. This does not mean that they are not focused on e-commerce and tax problems! Within Europe there is, of course, Pluslotto from Liechtenstein, and many other examples like the sports books in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, or Gibraltar, (The Aussies included the Commonwealth seem to take the lead!!), casinos in Aland, horse betting in Germany, etc. And everyone knows that with a little effort, you can find the most beautiful games within your own part of the Net, although those are less regulated or not regulated. Within a few months, I think you will see that legal action will be taken to close down these kinds of activities. In some cases to end infringements on trademarks or games of existing lottery operators, in others to end more serious cases of consumer fraud. You have to take into account that the attorney generals of several countries are eager to set some examples. As I stated earlier, the Internet will become more and more regionalized. Languages, currencies, prohibitive acts, licensing policies, etc. will create separate regions on the Net, at least regarding e-commerce and gaming activities. It will take some time to reconnect these various regions.

Why is the Dutch Antilles so popular for gaming enterprises?

Many of the online casinos are indeed based in the Dutch Antilles. No wonder, since the government of the Antilles allows such activities. Along with the sunny weather in the Antilles, there is a sunny tax climate as well! A so-called Landsverordening (Lands Act) makes licensed offshore betting activities possible. The Antilles is an independent part of the Dutch Kingdom, at least concerning the making and implementation of laws. So in this respect, the government of the islands is responsible for what goes on. Sites claiming that the Dutch government, the government in the European part of the Kingdom that is, is controlling or monitoring the gaming activities are, in a way, giving exact information.

What big changes do you predict in online gaming?

I think the biggest change will come as soon as major casino operators (Las Vegas and Atlantic City) and lotteries like, for instance, the Powerball organization or the National Lottery in the UK go online. Their names will be known by the public, and will be trusted more than, with all due respect, operators working under very exotic names from very exotic parts of the world. Besides that, existing operators will be able to use their marketing skills and knowledge to reach the player. They can provide them with high level services, cheap devices to enable the customers to play their favorite games at any time and at any place, exiting TV shows, and names of famous people. The player will be attracted by all this; he will get what he wants. If he wants individual games or multiplayer-type games, he will get it. These existing operators will benefit from the fact that they will always be able to award enormous prizes and millions and millions in jackpots. Just like many newspapers and broadcasting stations join the top five Internet search engines and information sites, you will see these entertainment companies on these kinds of sites. Regarding the European situation, I think that accessing the Internet will get easier. I think we will see new things like a hybrid TV/PC set. I don't know if it will be like Web TV, but I am sure there will be some multifunctional TVs or PCs. And -a positive thing for Dutchmen- I think it will become much cheaper and faster to access the Internet as well. Regarding Internet payment systems, I expect a lot of smart cards. It will remain difficult to regulate the Internet. But I think when legislators join forces with technicians, even law enforcement in a virtual world will be possible but different. Being a jurist myself, I can say that it is strange to have no visible place where a 'crime' took place. There are also difficulties determining at what point in time something took place. In a way, the precautions that casino operators are now taking (e.g. getting the same hand of cards back when a player ends his Internet connection on purpose) is already a form of regulation. And I think digital certificates from so-called Trusted Third Parties will also enhance regulation. You should also remember that when existing lottery organizations join the Internet, their supply is regulated. Anything they do will be monitored by a national gaming board or the national parliament at least.

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