Swedish report calls for gambling time limits

10 August 2020

Online gambling in Sweden should only be offered at certain hours, a new report from the country’s Equality Commission (Jämlikhetskommissionen) has said.

The recommendations were made in a report “aimed at increasing economic equality in the long term and increasing the opportunities for social mobility” from the Commission, which forms part of the Ministry of Finance.

The report also said that a national portal should be created to enforce deposit limits across the entire regulated market, while gambling advertisements should carry a warning,

It said about 2% of the Swedish population suffers from gambling addiction, 0.4% of which are classed as having a “severe addiction”. Furthermore, it added, a small number of players make up the majority of spend, accounting for 50% of gambling turnover in 2017.

It added that women were more likely to show signs of addiction than men.

The Commission added that while “no simple connection” has been established between income and problem gambling in Sweden. However, it added, lower earners tend to be “more vulnerable” due to a lack of disposable income, despite gambling less on average than higher earners.

Online gambling and especially online casino, it said, were the verticals most likely to lead to problem gambling.

However, it warned against overly strict regulation, which it said may create channelisation issues.

“In the same way as with alcohol policy, the policy needs to focus on preventing abuse through balanced efforts rather than limiting all gambling. Excessive restrictions or high taxes can lead to an increased share of unregulated gambling.”

The Jämlikhetskommissionen recommended that gambling should have “limited opening hours”. Although it didn’t state what these hours should be, instead offering that a further investigation should create a “more concrete proposal”, it mentioned that a large portion of gambling takes place on Fridays and Saturdays.

The report also said that stake limits can be an important tool in tackling addiction by offering a break in play, yet currently are limited as they only apply to individual operators. A national monitoring platform for the entire regulated market, through which player activity across all licensees could be tracked, would be more effective.

Through this portal, players would set a maximum deposit per 24 hours, which could not be exceeded.

“When this maximum amount specified on a daily basis is reached, the player should not be able to continue gambling,” the Jämlikhetskommissionen said. Again, it said that a further investigation would be required to create a more concrete proposal of how platform would work.

The Commission also said that there may be “reasons to discuss” an annual deposit limit such as that in Norway, but did not include it in its list of recommendations.

The Equality Commission noted advertising was one area in which further restrictions may be necessary.

“Those who respond most to advertising have a high level of impulse-driven consumption, both in gambling and elsewhere,” the Commission said. “This risks leading to overconsumption, problem gambling, gambling abuse or displacement of necessary spending.”

The report suggested warning messages, similar to those displayed on tobacco products, should be included in gambling marketing messages. Suggested messages included "Most people who gamble lose money"; "Gambling addiction increases the risk of suicide", and "Children of gambling-addicted parents risk a bad start in life".

However, it noted that for this to happen, a change would be needed in Sweden’s constitution to exempt gambling advertisements from certain free speech laws that all forms of advertisement - except ads for alcohol and tobacco - are granted.

Although it said the effect of this should largely be positive and the law should be easy to enforce if put into place, the Commission noted that it “could lead to revenue losses”.

A further recommendation suggested operators should provide the Gaming Authority (Spelinspektionen) with “anonymised information” about customers.

“Today, licensed gaming companies have access to extensive information about the individual players,” the Jämlikhetskommissionen explained. “With this information they can develop and refine [...] the advertising sent to both registered and prospective customers.

“In this way, they have a significant information supremacy over the authorities that will conduct supervision of the business.”

The Commission added that this data would allow for much more accurate tracking of problem gambling, and would improve on the current format of conducting player surveys.

“Problem gambling and gambling addiction is today measured primarily through surveys or with people who are undergoing treatment for their gambling problems, which can lead to significant statistical errors in the studies,” it continued.

In addition, the report said the Swedish government should make a “targeted contribution” to municipal and local governments in order to help them create better treatment frameworks.

The Commission noted that recent legislation such as the Healthcare Act and Social Services Act placed much of the responsibility for problem gambling treatment on local government, yet “no new resources were transferred to municipalities and regions to meet this new responsibility”.

Local government, it said, has been left to address gambling addiction with the same resources it had in 2017, despite being given more responsibility while the Swedish gambling market has also undergone a significant transformation.

“In order to give municipalities and regions the opportunity to take full responsibility for preventive work and care in the area, and to reduce the risk that other socially important activities will thus be crowded out, a targeted contribution should be introduced,” the report said.

However, Gustaf Hoffstedt, secretary general of online gambling trade association Branscheforenigen for Onlinespel (BOS), said that he would "find it unlikely that [the Equality Commission's] suggestions will be taken into serious consideration by the government or elsewhere," because of what he described as a negative reception to the proposals in Sweden.

Sweden's gambling regime has been characterised by tight regulation since the market opened on 1 January 2019. Most recently, the country introduced a the SEK5,000 (£401/€459/$495) mandatory weekly deposit limit for online casino games while the country faces the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

This limit has proved unpopular with licensees, with Hoffstedt claiming temporary deposit limits for online casino have created “chaos” as different operators interpret the limit in different ways.