With 26 fiercely independent cantons, three official languages and two, technically over-arching, often-competing, regulatory authorities, it’s little surprise that iGaming operators often find working in Switzerland as complex as the nation’s 475 varieties of cheese.
Turophiles—that’s cheese lovers to you and me—well know that many Swiss cheeses, led by the famous Emmentaler, have “holes” in them. Some people refer to them as “eyes”. That’s rich: cheese with eyes, a bit like the plethora of departments and regulators who keep watch on the country’s gambling sanctity.
In the last month, for example, Swiss gaming authorities have added almost 50 sites to their iGaming badlist, including a sub-domain that reputedly was re-directing punters to our very own Bet365, which is led by one of the UK’s only 25 female billionaires, Denise Coates.
Swiss gambling is regulated and policed by two principal bodies known, for simplicity, by the acronyms ESBK and GESPA.
As far as this reporter can make out, the ESBK, full name in German, Eidgenössische Spielbankenkommission, represents the national, or federal, state; while GESPA, standing for Swiss Gambling Supervisory Authority, and known until the end of last year as COMLOT, represents the cantons.
The Swiss “badlists” were first published in 2019 in a bid to control online gaming in the world’s fifth-richest per capita country, population 8.7 million people.
More than 600 websites have been badlisted by both regulators and blocked by Internet service providers since this time.
Under the current Swiss iGaming law, initiated in January 2019, only the nation’s land-based casinos can legally run online betting.
Currently, there are only seven licensed domains operating in the country, among them: 7melons.ch, run by the Grand Casino Kursaal in the capital, Bern, and Pasino.ch, online child of the Casino du Lac in Geneva.
Among the most prominent online operators currently badlisted are sites under the Bahigo brand and Matchbook.com.
It’s estimated that the gambling take in Switzerland, both online and retail, is around CHF650 million (£516.2m/US$701.7m/€607m), with another CHF1 billion (£794m/US$1.08bn/€934m) spent on lotto and sports betting.
Last year—perhaps driven by the growth in online sites and Covid-19 lockdowns—an additional 10,000 Swiss citizens were banned from gambling, with the total now surpassing 72,000 people forbidden from placing bets.
Meanwhile, NGO Addiction Suisse has called for tougher restrictions on gambling advertising and even tighter controls on gaming.
Unlike its cheese industry, Swiss iGaming is young and relatively immature. Both, if you forgive the simile, are full of holes.
But there again, perhaps it’s the diversity—even the lacuna–that makes it memorable and very, very tasty.