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New Year, New Broom: Sweden Mulls Sweeping New Online Gaming Controls

Amid arguably one of the toughest anti-Covid lockdowns in the world, Swedish regulatory and government authorities have tightened the screws on the country’s surging online gambling industry.

First comes a scatter-gun salvo to bring “all” offshore operators within reach of the Swedish market under the control of the nation’s gaming regulator, the Spelinspektionen; while a second blast is aimed at further lowering online gaming deposit limits.

On the eve of Christmas, Sweden ordered tough new Covid-19 pandemic controls to combat the Omicron variant of the virus.

Citizens must now work from home, must not meet in groups of more than eight and vaccine passports have been introduced for indoor events with more than 500 participants.

The Spelinspektionen regulator is now fully backing proposals mooted in October to expand the reach of the country’s Gambling Act.

The gambit will force all offshore operators–even those not specifically targeting the Swedish space–to comply with the country’s iGaming regulations.

And the impact in the Scandinavian nation will almost certainly mirror the recent online regulatory enforcement in nearby Holland, which has led to a number of top online operators–among them Betsson, Casumo, Kindred and LeoVegas– aggressively blocking punters in the Netherlands from playing on their sites, while the gambling companies consider their market options.

As with most regulatory bodies, Spelinspektionen appears happy to have greater powers at its command.

Market Turbulence

But the move could cause turbulence in the market.

“Spelinspektionen is generally positive to the proposal for an amendment to [the scope] of the Gaming Act,” the authority said in a statement.

“A simplification and extension of the concept reduces the risk of different interpretations regarding which gaming companies can target the Swedish market. [We] agree with the investigation.”

Industry watchers say EU operators in the main are likely to comply with the new proposals.

But most concur that it will be much more difficult to control non-EU actors.

And almost all–even some members of the Spelinspektionen–have expressed distaste at the proposed covert nature of policing the changes in the Swedish Gaming Act, with the regulator buying iGaming services using dummy accounts.

Clearly much has still to be worked out.

What happens, for example, if a ghost account hits the jackpot? What happens to the winnings?

The Road to Hell

Meanwhile, amid the Covid-19 Omicron surge, Sweden’s Minister for Social Protection Ardalan Shekarabi clearly fears the potentially harmful side effects of a corresponding surge in iGaming.

So he’s now proposing a new, lower, deposit limit of SEK4,000 for online casino gamers (£326/US$442/€390), to take effect next month, February – further reducing the current SEK5,000 cap (£408/US$552/€488), which has been running from July, 2020.

The limit, originally, logically and laudably, was designed to protect “vulnerable” players.

But as Gustaf Hoffstedt, Secretary-General of Sweden’s gambling industry association, Branscheforenigen for Onlinespel (BOS), explains: the cap can only be applied to an account with a single operator.

Players wanting to spend more than SEK4,000 simply register to gamble with other providers.

And there has been “a sharp increase” in the number of accounts held by these players, he says.

“When gambling becomes as fragmented as it does with deposit limits, no individual gaming company can capture risky gaming behaviour. [Thus] a cornerstone of Swedish consumer protection in the gaming law is lost,” stresses the boss of BOS.

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.