BOS: Swedish covid restrictions throw punters to the ‘wolves’

Sweden’s operator trade association Branscheforenigen för Onlinespel (BOS) has lambasted the country’s government for plans to extend temporary restrictions on the industry.

The measures were initially planned to run to the end of the year, but on Tuesday (10 November) the government outlined new proposals which would extend the restrictions until the end of June 2021.

BOS secretary general Gustaf Hoffstedt said the planned extension will throw “Swedish gaming consumers out of the licensing system in the wolves’ gap where consumer protection is zero”.

The Swedish government introduced the consumer safeguarding measures in July, believing that the covid-19 pandemic may lead to increased gambling activity and a consequent rise in harm.

The restrictions included a SEK5,000 (£430.50/€483/$570) weekly deposit limit, players being required to set playing duration limits on casino and slots games and igaming bonuses being limited to SEK100 (£8.60/€9.65/$11.40).

In defiance of the proposals, Hoffstedt said: “There is nothing as permanent as a political promise of something temporary.”

BOS argued that the government’s fears of online casino use soaring during the pandemic have been unfounded and that the restrictions do not have the desired effect of protecting consumers.

“Online casinos stood still, and sports betting decreased dramatically due to cancelled matches. Instead, it was games on horses that increased dramatically,” Hoffstedt said.

“This was known to all players in the gaming market, such as the Swedish Gaming Inspectorate, us and the government, but unfortunately the government persisted in the erroneous claim that online casinos would have increased and that special restrictions were therefore called for that form of gaming. Betting on horses, on the other hand, was left protected from restrictions.”

In July, the Swedish regulator raised concerns that the restrictions were unlikely to dissuade most punters from gambling during the pandemic, but they did pose a risk of driving those consumers to unregulated platforms.

Likewise, Hoffstedt added: “The consequences of the restrictions are twofold. On the one hand, high-volume players jump between more and more gaming companies to avoid the deposit limit. This makes it difficult for an individual gaming company to get an overall picture of a player’s behaviour, which is a prerequisite for being able to take protective measures in the event of suspected problem gambling.

“On the one hand, the high-volume players are leaving the Swedish licensing system in favour of the unregulated gaming market, where there are no deposit limits. Even before the first restrictions were introduced this summer, the leakage from the Swedish licensing system was 25 per cent for online casinos.”

He said it was “scary” to think how many consumers had already moved over to unregulated operators, and how many more might follow if the restrictions were extended.

A consultation on the Swedish government’s proposals is open until 23 November.

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