Sweden: Covid-19 impact on problem gambling yet to be felt

20 July 2020

The Swedish Gaming Inspectorate’s (Spelinspektionen) latest report on gambling amid the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic warns that the impact of the crisis on problem gambling figures will not be apparent until later in 2020 at the earliest.

Citing input from Sweden’s National Association of Gambling Addicts (Spelberoendes Riksforbund), it said it would not be until Autumn of this year, or by Spring 2021, that it will be apparent whether the crisis has caused an increase in gambling addiction or unhealthy behaviour among players.

The association explained that it had seen evidence of players dedicating more spend to a broader range of gambling products.

Those that previously only bet on sports, it said, had shifted to other products when events were suspended as a result of the pandemic. Since sports had begun to return, these players had continued to gamble across multiple verticals.

Stödlinjen, Sweden’s national problem gambling helpline, said it received fewer calls from players in May, though noted that those that called did so having developed problems with products such as online casino, betting on racing and poker. The number calling for issues with sports betting and gaming machines, on the other hand, had declined.

However, it added, based on its self-test for assessing gambling behaviour, median scores on the Problem Gambling Severity Index, were “basically the same” as before the pandemic hit.

Spelberoendes Riksforbund also warned that more needed to be done to block access to unlicensed sites, with players that have self-excluded from licensed sites via Spelpaus.se telling local problem gambling support networks they were being targeted by offshore operators.

The number of people signed up to Spelpaus amounted to 53,122 people as of 13 July, compared to 52,026 on 14 June. This, Spelinspektionen said, showed a slowing in the rate of new registrations.

The report also provided the latest monthly update on the market’s performance, based on licensees’ tax returns. The figures reveal that the country’s regulated igaming market returned to growth in May, though this was entirely down to former horse racing monopoly AB Trav och Galopp (ATG).

Spelinspektionen reported that online gaming revenue was up 6% year-on-year for May, after April’s revenue fell 3% below the prior year’s total. However, it added, without ATG’s contribution, online betting and gaming revenue would have been down 14% from May 2019.

ATG, the regulator said, mainly derived revenue from horse race betting, which continued largely unaffected by the pandemic.

The online growth was driven by a small number of operators, with 21 licensees reporting year-on-year revenue growth, compared to 32 that saw a decline for the month.

The report also showed a decline in the lottery and gaming machine verticals, both of which are operated through Svenska Spel’s monopoly. After a 50% decline in revenue for March, this narrowed to 9% in April, before once again increasing in May, when revenue came in 23% below the prior year.

Spelinspektionen warned against interpreting this decline as a direct result of Covid-19, however, explaining that larger payouts resulted in significant fluctuations in the figures.

It added that casino revenue, comprising income from restaurant casinos and Svenska Spel’s Casino Cosmopol chain (which were closed during the month), was also down. However, as restaurant casinos had not yet paid gaming tax - which is used to calculate the market performance - for May, it did not provide figures on the decline.