Sweden leads the world in a number of things, including marketing communications, standards of living, and environmental awareness but when it comes to online gambling, the country’s policies remain rather rigid. Swedish legislators have so far prevented the interactive gaming sector in the country from developing to its full potential despite the fact both landbased and online gambling is of legal status there and is fully regulated.
The laws Sweden has enforced have led to the establishment of a state-owned monopoly which conflicts with the competition rules, outlined by the European Commission. The latter has put pressure on the Nordic country, which is also a member of the EU, to finally make the first steps towards changing the current legislative framework in regard to online gambling. You will be able to read more about online gambling legislation in Sweden and the amendments Swedish authorities have suggested to introduce as of late.
History and Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Sweden
At the present moment, both interactive and landbased gambling activities are considered legal on the territory of Sweden, with residents of the country being able to bet on a variety of games, including bingo, arcades, scratchcards, lotteries, and poker. All gambling-related activities in the country are monopolized and are under the control of the Swedish National Lottery, so-called Svenska Spel, which is fully-owned and backed by the state itself. While the current legislative framework creates the impression Sweden is home to a regulated and open gambling market, in principle, this is far from the truth since Svenska Spel is practically the only company that has been granted a license to offer gambling services to residents of the country.
The status of online gambling in Sweden, as we know it today, is a product of the introduction of two important pieces of legislation, the first one being the 1994 Lotteries Act. The latter covers an extensive range of gambling forms, including slot machines, bingo, lotteries, dice games, and traditional table games, such as roulette and poker. This piece of legislation provides the Swedish Gambling Authority with the power to grant licenses to landbased and online gambling operators.
This regulatory body is also responsible for ensuring the aforementioned games are run fairly and in compliance with its guidelines. Gambling-related games can be offered only after being approved by state-owned bodies like Svenska Spel or the Swedish Gambling Authority. According to the provisions of the Lotteries Act, the advertisement of lotteries and casino games offered by foreign gambling operators is illegal.
Another important piece of legislation is the Casinos Act, which came into force in 1999 and aimed at introducing additional regulations in regard to dice and card games. However, these regulations were applicable predominantly to brick-and-mortar gambling establishments. The Casinos Act outlined gambling age limits and prohibited landbased gambling venues from issuing credit to their customers.
The year of 2002 saw the introduction of an amendment to the 1994 Lotteries Act. The purpose was to update the legislation so that it covers online gambling as well. It was precisely this amendment that allowed Svenska Spel to offer Swedish players online casino games and rendered it the only licensed interactive gambling provider on the territory of the country. In 2006, Svenska Spel was granted another license allowing it to become the sole provider of online poker services in the country.
The Swedish government justified the monopolization of the online gambling sector in the country with the argument that it works to the advantage of players as it protects them against the unreliable gambling platforms on the web. In addition, the lawmakers argued that the monopolization would lead to a reduction of the social harms, associated with pathological gambling.
In the summer of 2010, the European Court of Justice sided with Sweden, backing its ban on the advertisement of online gambling. The ruling came after two of Sweden’s largest newspapers protested against the fines they had received for publishing advertisements on their sports pages which openly promoted the services of online gambling operators, based in other countries.
Controlling the monopolized gambling sector in the country comes with certain disadvantages for Svenska Spel. The operator is subjected to various burdensome regulations which make it next to impossible for Svenska Spel to become a serious competitor for foreign gambling providers. For example, the company is allowed to offer online poker but its license restricts the service only to Swedish players. Needless to say, this affects the accumulation of the prize pools negatively since the number of poker players to contribute with buy-ins is smaller. Because of this, many Swedish players prefer to use the services of foreign operators that offer more extensive gaming libraries, larger pools, and better odds for sports betting markets.
Such online gambling operators may lack a Swedish license, but this is not to say they are unreliable and unregulated since the majority of them hold licenses from other respected and stringent jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, Malta, and Gibraltar. Since these foreign operators are based in countries where online gambling is completely legal, they are under no obligation to comply with the legislation of other countries. Especially, if the said legislation is in stark violation of the trade agreements set forth by the European Union as is the case with Sweden.
And indeed, there are plenty of options for Swedes who wish to bet at foreign gambling websites. An impressive number of licensed, secure and fair gambling operators, including giants like William Hill, bet365, and 888casino, cater to the needs of Swedes by offering them transactions in their native currency, SEK, as well as a number of flexible payment methods suitable for residents of the country. What further adds to the convenience of non-English speaking Swedes is the ability to load some of the biggest gambling websites in their native language.
The Swedish Gambling Authority
The Swedish Gambling Authority, known as Lotteriinspektionen, is the institution responsible for all matters that have to do with landbased and online gambling activities that take place within the country. This is the institution that issues licenses for different types of gambling activities such as wagering on traditional casino games, poker, bingo, lotteries, and sports betting. Other areas the Swedish Gambling Authority operates in include the approval of various types of lottery tickets and technical equipment, used by landbased gambling operators.
This body also undertakes regular audits in order to ensure the legality, transparency, and fairness of the Swedish gambling market. One of its primary goals is to guarantee the illegal gambling and lottery operations within the country are brought down to the absolute minimum.
If a licensee fails to comply with the conditions set forth by the Swedish Gambling Authority, the latter may choose to either issue a warning or permanently revoke the offender’s license. Individuals who are caught arranging illegal lotteries or promoting gambling activities that take place outside Sweden risk facing hefty fines or, in the worst-case scenario, two years imprisonment.
The Future of Online Gambling In Sweden
The ironic thing about Sweden’s legal framework in regard to online gambling and its monopolization, in particular, results from the fact that the privately owned gambling industry is actually flourishing in this country. Some of the most noteworthy Swedish brand names are those of popular gambling operators Betsson and Unibet as well as that of leading gambling software supplier NetEnt. And unlike Svenska Spel, which is struggling to keep up with foreign competitors because of its rigid license terms, these Swedish companies are not only doing well, but are even leading the industry towards innovation and further development.
However, the silver lining is that the European Union has already addressed Sweden’s monopolization as a violation of Europe’s policy of free trading. Furthermore, various reports released in the past few years indicate that Svenska Spel’s control over this sector has not been effective in curbing the problems associated with pathological gambling, neither has it prevented residents of the country from playing at unregulated gambling websites.
Things escalated rather quickly as the European Commission has even gone as far as threatening Sweden with international sanctions if it fails to open its market to foreign gambling operators. According to the European Commission, the current legislation aims to protect not so much the interest of players but that of the state-owned company Svenska Spel.
The first steps towards change have already been made. In March 2017, the Swedish Gambling Authority released a report, containing the results of a year-and-a-half long research on the state of the gambling industry in the country. This resulted in the proposition of opening the Swedish market to foreign gambling operators who obtain licenses from the Swedish authorities. Another suggestion was to impose an 18% tax on the net profits of foreign gambling operators, who receive one such Swedish license.
However, this is hardly the first time the Swedish government states that amending its gambling laws is imminent. Only time will show whether or not Sweden will actually follow through with introducing the above-mentioned amendments to its current legislation on online gambling.