Sweden’s Trade Association for Online Gambling (BOS) has branded the government’s proposals to extend temporary consumer restrictions on online casino wagering as illogical, with ministers devoid of the real-life consequences of their judgement.
Sweden’s Riksdag has reviewed a raft of ‘Covid-19 protections’ proposed by the Ministry of Finance, which will see current weekly SEK 5,000 deposits limits and capped SEK 100 bonus offers on online casinos extended until 30 June 2021.
The Ministry of Finance reiterated its spring concerns that consumer engagement with online casinos and problem gambling would increase during the pandemic – a statement that has yet to be backed by evidence.
Issuing a response, BOS Secretary-General Gustaf Hoffstedt stated that no scientific assessment supports the Ministry of Finance’s planned proposals. BOS pointed towards market results published by scientific journal Frontiers Media SA, which concluded that “total gambling activity decreased by 13.29% during the first phase of the outbreak compared to forecast”.
While online casinos recorded a slight increase due to sports betting being temporarily cancelled, studies had seen “no increase in likely problematic, high-intensity gambling and neither did total online gambling increase”.
Of utmost concern, Hoffstedt underlined that restrictions have simply provided a pathway to market for black market actors knowingly targeting national consumers in a period of vulnerability.
“A deposit limit of 5,000 SEK per week does not solve the need to help people who have a gambling problem as it is always possible to gamble at different companies,” said Hoffstedt. “Alternatively, you can play at the unlicensed companies. The effects will instead be that the individual gaming companies cannot follow the individual players’ behaviour and, if necessary, support it.”
Following the enforcement of temporary restrictions, BOS emphasised that Swedish licensed incumbents now face a battle against the black market, adding that current regulatory safeguards have failed to secure the market.
Hoffstedt stated its disbelief that unlicensed operators can access popular Swedish e-wallet and digital payment services to service customers: “We have to close the loopholes,” he stressed.
The government’s lack of enforcement against black-market actors has rendered ‘Spelpaus’, Sweden’s gambling self-exclusion scheme, inept against unlicensed activities – as Gustaf pointed out that “7 out of 10 of those who seek help for gambling problems have banned themselves from playing breaks and still continue to play”.
The Swedish market re-regulated in 2019 to safeguard igaming consumers, with Swedish licensees contributing SEK 3.6 billion to the Treasury – an amount that is now steadily declining in step with the shift to the unlicensed companies.
BOS highlighted that “no unlicensed company has been fined or prosecuted since 1 January 2019, yet at the same time 26 fines have been issued for a total of SEK 236 million against the licensed gaming market”.
“The government’s mission should be to protect consumers and that should be their priority,” concluded Hoffstedt. “On the contrary, the effects have been that they have shifted vulnerable players to the unlicensed companies. Sweden has failed to protect the vulnerable players and the extended regulations will not protect them.”