Swedish government considers online casino shut-down

9 April 2020

Reports from Sweden suggest government ministers are mulling a temporary shut-down or new restrictions on online casino to avoid an increase in gambling related harm during the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The country’s gambling regulator Spelinspektionen confirmed to iGB that the government is considering various measures to protect consumers in the country, at a time when restrictions on movement are in place.

Minister for Social Security Ardalan Shekarabi, who holds responsibility for gambling policy, this week warned “extraordinary measures” may be taken if operators do not take action to protect consumers at a time casino play is on the rise.

The prospect of the ban has been greeted with dismay by industry stakeholders.

Affiliate marketing specialist BonusFinder, citing new data provided by Spelinspektionen, said there had been a 33% increase in online casino registrations and logins across 17 of the 60 licensees in the past fortnight.

This came after research carried out by BonusFinder last month found that almost a third of Swedish online casino players were searching for unlicensed casinos. More and more consumers were moving offshore as a result of the market's restrictive regulations, managing director Fintan Costello wrote in a piece for iGB at the time.

This proposed shut-down of online casino, instead of protecting players, was likely to prompt thousands more players to sign up to these black market sites, BonusFinder added. This in turn would cause further financial damage to the licensed market, it said.

“The Swedish government will make a colossal mistake if it chooses to temporarily close down online casino sites in an attempt to protect players,” Costello explained.

“As our research has shown, almost a third of online casino players are already looking to the black market for a more attractive offering since restrictive rules were imposed in January 2019. These latest plans would create an immediate black-market boom.”

Costello claimed that Swedish legislation already requires operators to implement strict responsible gaming safeguards, which he argued meant that the necessary player protection measures are already in place.

“The focus should instead be on ensuring these are adhered to rather than taking a knee jerk reaction to close down all legitimate brands and forcing even more players to unprotected sites,” he said.

Gustaf Hoffstedt, secretary general of the Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS), Sweden's trade association for online gambling, said that while he wasn't yet sure which action the government would take. However, any additional restrictions on the market would prove a boon to unlicensed operators, he said.

Hoffstedt said Sweden's current rate of channelisation towards the licensed market is at about 75%, well below the government's goal of 90%

"Sweden is struggling with low channelization rates when it comes to online casino, regardless of any possible additional restrictions for Swedish licensed operators," Hoffstedt said.  "To worsen the conditions for the Swedish licensed operators would not be a particularly smart move."

Should Sweden implement a shut-down or restrictions on casino play, it would become the latest market to take additional player protection measures doing the Covid-19 pandemic.

The British Gambling Commission, Danish regulator Spillemyndigheden and the Belgian Gaming Commission have all issued advice to players to help them ensure they don’t develop problems with their gambling.

The European Gaming and Betting Association, meanwhile, has set out a series of guidelines for marketing during the crisis, coordinated across a number of country-specific associations.

The Betting and Gaming Council has gone a step further, setting out a ten-point action plan for its members to ensure consumers were better protected.

Spain, however, has taken a more restrictive approach, introducing additional limits on igaming advertising after seeing an uptick in customer activity that bans bonus promotions. Belgium has introduced a €500 weekly deposit limit, though this has been in the offing since 2018, with sources claiming that it is not directly linked to the Covid-19 lockdown.