Svenska Spel to cease online casino advertising

9 April 2019

Sweden’s former gambling monopoly Svenska Spel is to stop advertising its online casino offering for the rest of 2019, over concerns that the vertical could lead to significant increases in problem gambling in the market.

The moratorium on advertising will apply across all channels, with the decision reached last week following internal discussions about how the operator can best protect its customers. The operator, which competes against private operators via its Svenska Spel Sport & Casino subsidiary, generated turnover of SEK385m (£31.9m/€37.0m/$41.7m) in the first two months of the regulated market.

“Svenska Spel has always pushed the line that all the games in the licensed market risk should be classified based on risk levels, and that stricter rules should apply for the more risky games, both in terms of design and marketing,” the operator’s chief executive, Patrik Hofbauer, said. “By ending advertising for online casino, we are now taking the plunge.”

While Hofbauer (pictured) conceded that no form of gambling is entirely without risk, issues associated online casino were especially pronounced.

He cited a Swedish Public Health Authority survey on problem gambling and addiction, which suggested that 30% of gaming machine and casino players struggled to manage their gambling. The survey also revealed that 60% of problem gamblers indicated online casino was their preferred method of gambling.

“These are facts that we discussed at Svenska Spel last week and that made us put our foot down,” Hofbauer said. “Our online casino advertising already had a restrictive design, but now we have chosen to completely stop advertising for the rest of the year.”

Hofbauer said that while the survey suggested overall problem gambling rates had fallen between 2015 - when the last survey was conducted - and 2018, there was a significant increase of those scoring highest on the Problem Gambling Severity Index.

“This indicates that those who are already at risk are adversely affected by advertising,” he said. “That is why we are now stopping online casino advertising: Simply because we do not want to attracting at-risk people to the most risky form of play.”

He also called on other Swedish licensees to follow Svenska Spel’s lead and stop advertising their services.

“If you are serious about taking responsibility, then you should address the problems where the problems exist, even if it impacts revenue in the short term,” Hofbauer said. “In the long term, this is the only sustainable option. It is also the only way we can improve the industry's reputation.

“We would like more gaming companies to join a promotional stop for online casino. It would show that the gaming industry is taking consumer protection seriously.”

Svenska Spel’s move comes against a backdrop of an increasingly fractious debate over gambling advertising in the market. The country’s gambling regulator Spelinspektionen has already pledged to crack down against excessive advertising, even issuing retrospective fines to companies it feels have previously promoted their services too aggressively.

It also aims to rigidly enforce bonus restrictions, which allow operators to target players with a single promotion upon signing up, with eight pending cases related to such offers.

Maria MacDonald of gaming-focused law firm Nordic Gambling last week told iGamingBusiness.com that the Swedish Consumer Ombudsman had also warned operators that self-excluded players were being targeted by gaming advertising.

Operators, which are meant to remove any self-excluded player from their marketing databases, were also warned that they would be held responsible for any affiliate marketing for their domains.

The industry has moved to address the concerns, with operator associations Spelbranschens Riksförbund (SPER) and Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS) partnering to publish a new code of conduct for members.

Image: Svenska Spel