WILLEMSTAD – None of the five so-called ‘master license holders’ in Curaçao possesses a legitimate and therefore valid license to operate or allow the operation of online gambling sites.
This was revealed through an investigation by the reporter at Curaçao.nu, who analyzed the five current gambling licenses based on an appeal to the Landsverordening Openbaar Bestuur.
Curaçao’s administrators failed to renew the licenses issued in the 1990s – consciously or not – following proper legal procedures in 2008, 2013. Subsequent extensions in 2018 and 2023 were then based on the previously issued invalid renewals.
Initially, Antillean Ministers of Justice Norberto Ribeiro and David Dick made the mistake, followed by the respective Ministers of Justice of Curaçao, Elmer Wilsoe, Nelson Navarro, Quincy Girigorie, up to the current Minister of Finance, Javier Silvania.
Meeting on gambling licenses with Minister Silvania
The latter should have been more aware when questioned about the validity of the five government-issued online gambling licenses in early October last year, within the context of giving the right to reply.
Instead of responding to the journalist, the ‘right of reply’ was published the next day in the Antilliaans Dagblad, which did not seek a response.
“All five Curaçao ‘master license holders’ for online gaming have a valid license,” was the minister’s response, stating that the journalist’s information was ‘not accurate.’ Whereas, it has now been revealed to be the opposite.
First Licenses Issued
The first licenses, for Cyberluck and Antillephone, were granted in 1996. In 1998 and 2002, additional licenses were issued for Gaming Services Provider and Curacao Interactive Licensing. In 2003, the government led by Mirna Godett granted the last online gambling license, which was a permanent license for The Elite Turf Club, automatically renewed.
There are additional licenses issued, but these were not disclosed in response to Curacao.nu’s request under the Landsverordening Openbaarheid Bestuur. These include at least three ‘master license holders’: Intertrust (T.I.S.S. N.V.) owned by Gregory Elias, Millionaire’s Club N.V. owned by Robbie dos Santos, and Curaçao Interactive Gaming Licensing under the abbreviation CIGL – Equity Trust.
Automatic renewal of a gambling license, like that of The Elite Turf Club, goes against the principles of good governance and is undesirable because it deprives the government of crucial assessment moments. Nevertheless, the then Minister of Justice, Mr. Norberto Ribeiro, granted such a license to The Elite Turf Club, owned by a group of Americans who had established a Curaçao-based shell company for this purpose.
Over time, the issuance and renewal of licenses by the Curaçao government to license holders on the island became a real concern due to the lack of law enforcement and oversight over the unbridled increase in illegal sublicenses to parties that could not be screened for safety by the government, thus bypassing regulation and oversight.
The Dutch Minister of Justice, Franc Weerwind, stated last year that due to the lack of proper supervision by the Curaçao government, insufficient data is available regarding, for example, the independent decisions made by master license holders to issue sublicenses. “Non-transparent,” said Weerwind.
In October of last year, the Court in Willemstad stated that the gambling sector in Curaçao, in this case, master license holder Cyberluck, was treading on thin ice by issuing so-called sublicenses without adequate supervision.
“That a handful of license holders issue many sublicenses, with numerous gaming websites worldwide and significant revenue, without the license holders themselves being able to exercise proper oversight, without any government oversight being possible, and without the Country of Curaçao benefiting from it, seems difficult to reconcile with any legitimate purpose of the Landsverordening from 1996,” according to the Court.
The United States
Until 2006, Curaçao’s online gambling industry primarily targeted the American market. However, on October 13, 2006, the United States imposed a ban on offshore internet gambling on American soil, known as the Safe Port Act.
This led to significant issues for Curaçao-based banks, such as Girobank, Citco (SFT) bank, Meespierson, and Fortis Bank in the Antilles, which, until that moment, facilitated gambling transactions and gambling wealth management. Their American correspondent banks threatened to sever banking relationships.
In response, license holders like Intertrust and Millionaire’s Club decided to cease their online gambling activities. The remaining license holders, facing correspondent banking problems, could no longer conduct local banking operations. They began channeling their funds through so-called Payment Service Providers (PSPs).
Working with PSPs had the advantage that banks no longer had visibility into the identity of players. However, this method of payment processing contradicted the original gambling licenses, which required maintaining player lists and using local or internationally renowned banks to facilitate reports of unusual transactions, known as MOT reports, and money laundering investigations.
On January 16, 2007, the United States Department of Justice arrested the founders of the largest PSP, Netteller (now part of Paysafe), for promoting illegal gambling and money laundering. It was revealed that a significant portion of Netteller’s profits came from gambling transactions of web casinos in Curaçao, Costa Rica, and Antigua, operating illegally in the United States.
To demonstrate the integrity of their licenses, Curaçaoan license holders C.I.L. Curacao Interactive Licensing N.V. and Cyberluck N.V. requested extensions from the Antillean Minister of Justice, David Dick, on January 30, 2007, over a year and a half before their licenses expired in 2008. Strictly speaking, it was quite early, but in light of developments in the United States, the thought might have been: better safe than sorry.
However, the El-Hage government, influenced by these American developments, was not willing to officially extend the previously issued gambling licenses. Instead of the required official National Decrees, Minister Dick issued ‘in principle agreement’ letters in 2007 for Cyberluck and Curacao Interactive Licensing (CIL).
This bypassed the formal process involving approval by the Council of Ministers, confirmation by the Governor, and publication of the extension in the Curaçaose Courant. Regarding the latter, Curacao.nu has not seen any extension of any license published in the Curaçaose Courant, despite a request to the Minister of Finance. They were also not provided with the LOB request.
Similar letter extensions by David Dick to Gaming Services Provider and Antillephone followed on April 15 and July 25, 2008, respectively.
However, such extensions by letter without the signatures of the Council of Ministers and the Governor and without stamps and seals violate Article 1, paragraph 1 of the Offshore Gambling Ordinance and Article 4 of the Proclamation Ordinance.
The absence of publications prevented objections to the extensions and hindered transparency regarding the covert shift of illegal gambling activities from the American to the European market.
What Minister of Justice David Dick started in 2007 continues in 2012 under his later successor, Elmer Wilsoe. Now, there are signed National Decrees by Governor Frits Goedgedrag, although we could not find anything published in the Curaçaose Courant, and thus, it cannot be verified whether the National Decrees have legal force.
Remarkably, the extended license considerations mention that, for example, Cyberluck has diligently fulfilled its licensing obligations to the government. However, this cannot be the case because the issuance of sub-licenses, not licensed and therefore illegal, has occurred.
In July 2012, Minister Wilsoe ‘forgets’ to mention that the Netherlands Antilles no longer exist, and the National Decree is therefore made by the country of Curaçao. However, four months earlier, the National Decree for the extension of the license of CIL – Interactive Licensing does receive an indication of the changing constitutional constellation.
The extensions by National Decree from Nelson Navarro in late 2013 and the extensions in 2018 by Minister Quincy Girigorie, except for the extension of Gaming Services Provider, are all provided with seals, stamps, and the governor’s signature. However, they are based on earlier extensions, as indicated in the considerations, which did not follow the correct route, and the provisions included in the 1996 Gambling Act do not seem to have been followed, at least no documents have been provided in Curacao.nu’s LOB request.
This article does not focus on the illegality of sub-licenses, but they do play a contextual role in the story of the validity of licenses. The extension of Antillephone’s license in 2013 – with David Dick no longer in the picture – is taken over by the new Minister of Justice, Nelson Navarro.
It is noteworthy that he includes in a National Decree in September 2013 that sub-licensing is not allowed:
“Article 26 b and c: It is prohibited for a license holder to transfer or leave the exploitation of the license granted to him, and in the event a license holder has contractually transferred or left the exploitation of the license granted to him to one or more third parties, these third parties act in violation of Article 3 of the National Ordinance from 1996.”
This National Decree is revoked on November 15, 2013, barely two months later, and replaced by a concise version, in which these and other provisions are no longer included. The considerations do not mention why the first version was revoked, but it seems that the initial version explicitly made sublicensing illegal, potentially undermining the gambling sector. That was apparently not the intention, but former Minister Nelson Navarro, when asked, cannot recall the specifics.
Curacao.nu has attempted to request licenses from the five ‘master license’ holders on Curaçao itself. These requests specifically include Gaming Services Provider N.V, Antillephone N.V, Cyberluck Curacao N.V. trading as Curacao eGaming N.V. or CEG, Magic Times Holdings N.V. later C.I.L. Curaçao Interactive Licensing N.V. or CIL, and The Elite Turf Club N.V.
All of them claim, in various legal proceedings, to possess valid licenses. Since this is not evident from the requested license documentation via the LOB request, presenting the licenses could potentially dispel the numerous omissions found by Curacao.nu and exonerate the sector in one go.
However, the five requests to the ‘master license’ holders do not result in the presentation of licenses in any of the cases. Only director Vermeulen of Antillephone N.V takes the effort to point out that he is not aware of the LOB request but does send the newspaper article where Finance Minister Javier Silvania states that everything is in order and that the information from Curacao.nu is inaccurate. According to him, the information should be with the Gaming Control Board.
George van Zinnicq Bergmann of The Elite Turf Club N.V. also responds. He does not present a license but mentions that ‘his’ license expires on September 4, 2023, and the company is in the process of renewal. This is remarkable because his license is automatically renewed, unless otherwise indicated, as described in the license. Apparently, Silvania, although not from the Ministry of Justice, does not intend to renew. National Decrees are usually sent to the General Audit Chamber as well. Our team has tried to obtain insight through ARC, but the Audit Chamber invokes its duty of confidentiality and cannot or will not provide the requested information.
The licenses of Gaming Services Provider, Antillephone, Cyberluck, Curaçao Interactive Licensing, and The Elite Turf Club are invalid on another front upon issuance. Their licenses impose clear requirements on the license holder before the license becomes valid.
The licensing decision comes into effect on the date communicated in writing by the license holder to the minister but no later than two years after the decision is determined. In the LOB request, Curacao.nu did not find these written notifications, so the assumption is based on the maximum deadline of two years. Even then, the minister must be informed within six months that the operation has commenced. No documents related to this were found, nor were they submitted by the license holders after a request from Curacao.nu.
Additionally, the national decree expires if payment of the required stamp duties according to the Stamp Ordinance is not made within thirty days of its determination. Except for the licenses of C.I.L. and Gaming Services Provider, none of the original national decrees bear (sufficiently) authentic stamps.
Curacao.nu found no correspondence on these Article 27 requirements between the minister and license holders. Cyberluck and Antillephone, holders of gaming licenses 1668/JAZ and 8048/JAZ, refused to provide evidence to comply with licensing Article 27, nor did they want to prove compliance with the Stamp Ordinance. Moreover, they refused to provide copies of the required publications in the Curaçaosche Courant or demonstrate that their own operation had started timely and in accordance with their licenses.
Curacao.nu concludes that these two gaming licenses likely expired at an early stage before the turn of the century. In other words, these licenses appear to have become invalid six months after issuance in 1996, not remaining legally valid and continuously effective or extended after 12 years.
The same fate seems to be in store for Gaming Services Provider (license 365/JAZ), Curaçao Interactive Licensing or CIL (license 5536/JAZ) after 2002, and The Elite Turf Club (license 4627/RNA) after 2003.
The examination of the provided information by the Curaçao government and supervisory organizations following our appeal to the Public Administration Act, along with the refusal of the five gaming license holders to submit their granted licenses and license extensions, suggests that the sector and the Minister of Finance do not want to provide the public with insight, likely due to discrepancies in the records.
The current Minister of Finance, Javier Silvania, along with the supervisory organization Gaming Control Board, also raises suspicion by maintaining the status quo for the five existing license holders in the described situation. This suspicion extends over the course of 25 years, including the mentioned revocation and reissuance of the license for Antillephone in 2013 without provisions regarding outsourcing operations being the most noteworthy.
Furthermore, the commitment of the current Minister of Finance to grant a one-year grace period to the ‘master’ license holders and their sub-license holders based on their old, now apparently invalid licenses, is called into question with these revelations.
Bron: Curacao Chronicle
Lees ook: Tweets Hoge Raad:
1/4 Caribische zaken. Kort geding. Vorderingen tot rectificatie van publicaties in de Knipselkrant Curaçao waarin is gesteld dat sprake is van illegale sublicenties aan online gokbedrijven.
2/4 Gemeenschappelijk Hof wees vorderingen af: de hoofdredactrice van de Knipselkrant Curaçao mag sublicentieverlening ‘illegaal’ noemen. Dat valt binnen het bereik van de vrijheid van meningsuiting van een journalist.
3/4 Advies AG Hartlief aan Hoge Raad: vonnissen Gemeenschappelijk Hof kunnen in stand blijven. Volgens de AG lenen deze kortgedingprocedures zich niet voor een richtinggevende uitspraak over de (il)legaliteit van sublicentiëring in het kader van de Landsverordening buitengaatse hazardspelen.
4/4 Link naar conclusies AG: bit.ly/3QLYwsI en bit.ly/3G5UwOS
(Datum uitspraken op 17 mei 2024)
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Overzicht: het Curacao Goksector dossier
Verdieping: De Koninkrijksbelangen blogserie