Consultation flags concerns over Swedish casino controls

12 May 2020

The Swedish government’s consultation on proposals to set deposit and bonus limits for online casino during the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic have prompted a largely negative reaction from the gaming industry.

Even those that broadly supported the government’s goals of increased player protection suggested there was scope for change, with the country's gambling regulator Spelinspektionen having already flagged concerns about customers being lost to the offshore market.

Former horse racing monopoly AB Trav och Galopp (ATG) said it supported efforts to improve safeguards, though also noted that it has seen no increase in unhealthy play among its customer base.

ATG argued that a mandatory deposit limit would affect all verticals, rather than just online casino as intended by government. As such, it recommended a mandatory loss limit for online casino games be introduced. This was supported by Paf, which argued that a deposit limit would be less effective, and risk pushing players to illegal providers.

Cherry, on the other hand, rejected the grounds for the new controls. It argued that voluntary limit setting were more effective in prompting lasting changes in player behaviour, as these empowered customers to make decisions themselves.

Furthermore, it added, as the SEK5,000 deposit limit would apply to each account, rather than across all licensed operators, players would be more likely to move between providers. This, in turn, would make it harder to track changes in customer habits and spending, Cherry warned.

Others focused on the risk posed by restricting products in a way that hindered licensees’ ability to compete against offshore providers. NetEnt argued that with the Branscheforenigen for Onlinespel-commissioned Copenhagen Economics report already showing a significant decline in channelisation, the government was putting SEK4bn in gambling tax at risk.

Betsson, meanwhile, echoed Svenska Spel’s calls for the country’s gambling regulator Spelinspektionen to be given additional powers to tackle illegal gambling. It said during the pandemic, it would ramp up responsible gambling messaging and provide more data to Spelinspektionen on customer behaviour, to track any changes in player habits.

This, it said, should be supported by increased powers for the regulator to tackle problem gambling, and a licensing system for B2B providers to discourage partnerships with offshore operators.

Affiliate marketing specialist BonusFinder, meanwhile, highlighted the fact that in the past 12 months, searches for unlicensed casino brands had grown 305%. Searches for the specific term “casino utan licens”, “casino utan svensk licens” and “casino utan spelpaus” were up 710% in that period, it added.

BonusFinder warned that the proposal would also damage the short- and long-term financial futures of Swedish licensees, with operators required to undertake a “vast” amount of technical changes in a short space of time. Marketing would also need to be altered, it added.

“This is not easy at the best of times, or the worst, which we are all experiencing today,” it said.

Responses from Swedish government bodies were largely more supportive of the new restrictions, but not without qualifications. For example, the Swedish Consumer Authority (Konsumentverket) warned that in order for the restrictions to be effective, additional efforts would need to be taken to tackle offshore providers to ensure a high level of channelisation.

The country’s Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten), on the other hand, argued that tighter controls were needed. It argued in favour of a total ban on bonuses during the period proposed, as well as a campaign targeting younger gamblers. It also argued that new controls should be permanent, rather than lifted at a later date.

The Administrative Court of Linköping added that while it broadly supported the government’s aims, an in-depth impact assessment of the controls was necessary. Like BonusFinder, it noted that operators were being expected to make major technical changes in a short period of time, meaning it required additional guidance on how it should rule in cases of non-compliance by operators.

With the consultation closed on 8 May, the government will now assess the responses before making a decision on any potential changes to the restrictions.