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Gambling Reform in Curacao: How One Small Island Holds Tight the Whole Worldwide Gambling Industry

From recent times, almost all gambling news automatically implies upcoming changes in Curacao. In March of this year, the industry was expecting new Curacao gambling regulations, which was the main consequence of starting issues with obtaining new sublicenses. Some Master License Holders have even stopped onboarding new licensees because of that, mainly to prevent further risks with the transition to a new state license of the new regulator Curacao Gaming Authority. 

March 2023

After public discussions with Curacao authorities was decided to transfer the date of the coming new regulation in power to September 2023, the reason for such a decision was controversy regarding the terms and clauses of a new regulation. One of the new Curacao bill's main requirements was that "Licensed gambling entities will also require at least three employees in key positions based on the island within two years with relevant experience. They will be subject to enhanced money laundering measures". So, imagine. The population of Curacao is estimated to be around 160,000 people. There are thousands of online gambling platforms licensed there. It is complicated to imagine how this requirement will be completed in practice. Only this will cause chaos when all operators start to search for relevant people to cover this requirement, not to mention other requirements such as license fees, real, local presence on the island, strong anti-money laundering infrastructure in place, the conclusion of operating agreements with customers of the operator, etc. So, it was decided to appoint new discussions regarding this matter, which led to the delay in adopting the new regulation. 

Message from the Minister of Finance

On 13th July, the Curacao Minister of Finance published the message that all Master Licensors will get extensions of 1 year until the new regulation is enacted. It is direct evidence that the current regime will be still for one year, and further changes will be delayed again. Also, the Ministry of Finance explained that one of the primary elements of the transition into the new regime is to facilitate the uninterrupted continuity of all operations of sublicense holders. 

New regime enactment

As the Ministry of Finance has explained, such a decision regarding the prolongation of Master Licenses is logically right, and on the date new legislation comes into force, the Master License holders under the current law will transition automatically. All sublicensees who wish to continue business under the new regime will have three months in which to commence their application for a license under the new law. Then they will still have an 18 months transition period to fall under new requirements. 

1st September 2023

The Gaming Control Board, which now deals with land-based local Curacao gambling, will commence issuing new licenses directly to operators on 1st September. These licenses will be issued under the current Curacao legislation  (not the new regulations). Due to rumors, the minister is not trying to "reinvent the wheel" in such a way, so it will not be too dissimilar from the previous process. So, in fact, it will become the 5th Master License holder. All other Master Licensors may continue to issue new sublicenses. However, it is entirely at their discretion. That's why we can see now that some master licensors no longer accept applications from new operators and only renew already working operators. Some problems with bureaucracy and delaying the new application and licensing process are observed. 

Contrary to speculation, there has been no change whatsoever to the legislation or permissions of the Master License holders since the public announcement of drafting the new legislation last November. Neither the Ministry nor Gambling Control Board has prevented the master license holders from undertaking any activity that they have been doing. In fact, Master Licensors can act at their own discretion as before. They can stop to apply new operators; they can onboard only certain operators who are deemed necessary or whatever they want. 

Further plans

There are uncertain thoughts regarding new changes. The whole industry is waiting for the Ministry update in September, in which, as expected, it will outline the structure and conditions of the new regime. So, will it be the end of those changes, and the Gaming Control Board will be an alternative to a Curacao Gaming Authority? Nobody knows. Perhaps the Curacao government has understood that the new bill will be difficult to implement practically. However, we can only watch and wait. We will see how the mode with the Gaming Control Board will work soon. And current operators can breathe out and continue to work similarly for at least another year.

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