Switzerland to Vote on New Gambling Law

Swiss voters will soon decide on a new gambling law that could ban the use foreign gambling websites.

Last September, Switzerland’s parliament agreed on a new law that cleared the way to replace the 1923 Lotteries and Betting Act and the 1998 Gambling Act. Taking a tougher stance on online betting, the law aims to protect minors and prevent money laundering. Furthermore, only Swiss-based enterprises will be able to operate online betting games.

Now, though, with the June 10 vote approaching, several political parties are mounting a challenge, reports Swissinfo. Those in favor of the law argue that it will provide a financial boost while preventing problem gambling addiction; however, those against it claim that it will create a monopoly among the 21 casinos in the country.

According to the government, the new law is designed to help maintain control of the gambling market, in addition to bringing regulations up to date with the digital age. Furthermore, the limit on tax-free winnings from sports bets and lotteries would see an increase from CHF1,000 ($1,018) to CHF1m ($1.01m).

Younger generation in opposition

Interestingly, it is the youth wings of a number of political parties, such as the Swiss People’s Party, the Radicals, the Liberal Greens, and the Greens, that oppose the new law. According to Swissinfo, opponents have collected over 50,000 signatures, which means that a nationwide vote will take place in June.

Apart from believing the law will monopolize the industry, the parties contend that denying access to foreign websites amounts to “state censorship of the internet”. They also said this could force the country into “digital isolation”.

Campaigners said: “Banning online poker might just be the beginning. But where will this lead?”

The 21 casinos are taxed 40-80% on their gross revenues after deducting the winnings. In line with other companies, casinos are also taxed on their income.

Government defends new law

In March, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga rejected claims that the proposed reform was an infringement on people’s rights.

Speaking at a conference, she explained that a “pragmatic approach” had been taken to gambling in Switzerland, adding that the new law was designed to prevent money laundering, fraud, and to prevent problem gambling.

“They don’t contribute to the common good under the current regulations, depriving the old age pension scheme and sporting, cultural and social institutions of an estimated CHF250 million annually,” Sommaruga said.

Sommaruga added that it’s not just Switzerland that is taking steps to regulate online gambling. So too are other neighboring countries. Earlier this month, it was reported that Sweden’s government had adopted a bill to re-regulate the country’s gambling industry.

The new bill, “A re-regulated gambling market“, introduces a new gambling act and licensing system. This means that anyone operating in the Swedish gambling market is first required to have an authorized license. Those that don’t will be shut out of the industry.

With the new regulations expected to take effect January 1, 2019, it’s hoped that it will ensure consumer protection in gambling while limiting the negative effects that come with it.

Accusations

The result of Switzerland’s June vote remains to be seen; however, acrimonious disputes between right- and left-wing referendum groups are creating tension.

A referendum committee has admitted accepting money from foreign donors, which it claims is a legitimate process; whereas, opponents of the law have alleged that their political adversaries campaign has been sponsored by Swiss casino operators.

As a result, the heated debate looks set to continue right up to the voting date.