Swedish online gambling regulations: what have we learned so far?

The Swedish online gambling market will be one year old on January 1, 2020 and will be one of the key discussions of the second edition of Casino Beats Malta Next year.

The four-part conference and two-day exhibition take place at Intercontinental Malta at St Julian’s on March 25/26, 2020, and follows a successful first staging earlier this year.

Before this date Brean Wilkinson, Product Advisor at Rightlander, looks back briefly at the CasinoBeats Summit in September to address the lessons learned so far and what we can hope for in the future.

When the Swedish gaming regulator, Spelinspektionen, announced that the regulation was going to be introduced on January 1, 2019, many players feared perhaps the worst, but also hoped for the best. Almost a year later, how has regulation changed the landscape of one of Europe’s most dynamic online gambling markets?

It would be fair to say that the regulation of the Swedish online gambling market got off to a rough start. Spelinspektionen had very clear goals to achieve, and it didn’t take long for the market to figure out what those goals were.

Clarity

In the same month that regulation began, Spelinspektionen publicly warned the news
licensees that they were required to comply with the new rules. In a strongly worded letter sent to the 66 companies licensed to operate in Sweden, the regulator made it clear that there would be no exceptions for the marketing of gambling products to self-excluded players or for incorrect advertising of the gambling registry. ‘Spelpaus self-exclusion on their websites.

Just six months later, financial penalties were imposed on eight different operators for offering betting markets on events where players were typically under the age of 18. Most of the penalized operators were licensed gambling operators in Sweden. Of the eight operators, four were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing on appeal.

Justice

In that first year, several operators complained about the unfair advantage former Swedish gambling monopoly Svenka Spel appeared to have gained from the split of its online and land-based businesses. Many private companies believed that Svenka Spel could use this to their advantage by selling products between different parts of their business.

Grievances have also been voiced by companies that have obtained a license for Sweden. They have seen unlicensed operators continue to attract Swedish players through various means. These unlicensed operators may not be able to offer Swedish content on their websites or use the Swedish TLD (.se) in their domain names, but other opportunities have presented themselves as an unfortunate consequence of public understanding of the regulated landscape.

Tax free?

Speaking during an SBC webinar on the Swedish gaming market, iGaming consultant Ismail Vali told listeners his company has seen an increase in searches in Sweden for ‘duty free betting’ and ‘duty free casinos’ . A logical conclusion could be that players interpreted the new Swedish gambling regulations as potentially taxing their bets or winnings.

Rightlander was fortunate enough to participate in a panel focused on Sweden at the Casinobeats Summit in London in September. Stakeholders may have had differences of opinion, but where they seemed to agree unanimously was on the need for increased dialogue between the regulator, Spelinspektionen and licensed operators in Sweden. The two sides do not appear to have found common ground on issues such as bonus restrictions, education of the general public and the treatment of unlicensed operators.

Communication

To be fair to the regulator, Spelinspektionen, they have made efforts to communicate with operators and stakeholders through events like their operators meeting in September. It was streamed live on YouTube in Swedish and English and provided more details on the processes involved in regulating the Swedish market. What seemed obvious was the public’s eagerness to ask questions about the rules put in place by the regulator. Certain parts of the regulations deserved to be clarified and even possibly amended. Most of these questions, if not all, have remained largely unanswered.

Sometimes that’s the difficulty of regulation – the clearer the rules, the easier they are to get around. So it’s probably not surprising that Spelinspektionen allowed the public to continue to interpret the rules as best they could. The area in which they were most clear was that “there are no gray areas”.

As we approach the first year of regulation in Sweden, it’s probably reasonable to conclude that we’ve seen a bit of a stick – with the penalties, and a bit of a carrot – with the operators meeting. What we may need more of is increased dialogue between the regulator and licensed operators to encourage a healthy Swedish online gambling market, including the regulator, operators and, most importantly, players can all benefit.

Learn more about CasinoBeats Malta 2020 and express your interest in participating here.

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