Sweden Steamrolls Ahead With Controversial Online Gambling Restrictions

  • Government approved new regulation despite opposition from operators, Spelinspektionen
  • Granted Public Health Agency $54k to research “problem gambling” symptomatic of COVID-19
  • Restrictions include weekly $539.43 ceiling, maximum bonuses of $10.79, limited playing times
  • Coronavirus pandemic and perceived changes in bettor behaviour cited as catalyst for ruling
key with swedish flag and another with the word "casino"on keyboard
The Swedish government has passed a controversial new regulation that introduces temporary restrictions on online gambling and the use of vending machines. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Measures designed to counter perceived gambling risks

The Swedish government has approved controversial new online gambling restrictions despite heavy opposition from licensees and Spelinspektionen, the country’s gaming inspectorate.

Citing “liability measures aimed at the particularly risky forms of gaming” in a press release Thursday, the Swedish government also gave the Public Health Agency a SEK500,000 ($54,000) grant to research “problem gambling”, which it alleges is a symptom of the novel coronavirus.

mix of circumstances that together create great risks in the gaming area”

“As a result of the current pandemic, we see a mix of circumstances that together create great risks in the gaming area. These need to be counteracted,” said Sweden’s Social Security Minister Ardalan Shekarabi.

Limits on spend, time, and bonuses

The temporary regulation approves imposing a weekly SEK5,000 ($539.43) deposit ceiling per customer for online gambling, a limit that extends to vending machines.

weekly SEK5,000 ($539.43) deposit ceiling per customer for online gambling

Play on both online games and vending machines will also have set time limits. In addition, bonuses offered by Swedish online gambling operators will be capped at SEK100 ($10.79). The new measures will be effective from July 2 and expire at the end of 2020, according to the Swedish gaming inspectorate Spelinspektionen.

bonuses offered by Swedish online gambling operators will be capped at SEK100 ($10.79)

In a press release justifying its decision to impose the said restrictions, Sweden’s Ministry of Social Affairs referred to increased risk of unemployment, sick leave, and financial uncertainty in light of COVID-19. It also made reference to an increased risk of mental ill health, gambling problems, and personal debt.

Heavy opposition makes no impact on ruling

The regulation was met with strong opposition from several industry CEOs when it was first announced in April. Company heads also endorsed a statement from the Swedish Trade Association for Online Gambling, Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS), which said that the impending restrictions would “play into the hands of the unlicensed markets.”

The Swedish Gambling Authority had also previously voiced its concerns, namely that the proposed rule changes could result in players joining illegal sites offering no player protection.

Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association, even argued that the volume of online gambling had actually decreased in Sweden.

The controversial ruling was passed nonetheless.

We need in-depth knowledge of how problem gambling is affected by the corona pandemic”

Ultimately, the Swedish government was steadfast in its decision, with fear surrounding COVID-19 an often-repeated rallying cry. “We need in-depth knowledge of how problem gambling is affected by the corona pandemic […] preventing gambling abuse in the future,” said Minister for Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren on Thursday.