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Swedish Minister criticised for claiming igaming increased under Covid

| By Marese O'Hagan
A Swedish parliamentary committee has criticised claims made by Minister for Social Security Ardalan Shekarabi about a rise in online gambling at the start of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

The claims and their sources were assessed by the Riksdag’s Constitutional Committee (Konstitutionsutskottet/KU) in its annual review of the Swedish government’s performance.

Shekarabi made the claims at a press conference on 23 April 2020, which was held to address temporary measures, claimed to better protect players, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The regulations included an SEK5,000 (£428/€476/$540) deposit limit that was originally intended to cover all products, before being limited to online casino – as well as limits on playing time and bonus restrictions.
The deposit was introduced ostensibly to protect consumers during the Covid-19 lockdowns, and were originally in place until the end of 2020. However, the deadline has been extended multiple times, most recently until November 2021.

“What we see now is a dangerous cocktail of several circumstances that risk the increase of problem gambling and gambling addiction,” said Shekarabi at the April 2020 conference.

“The picture of this problematic situation is further strengthened when we see the gambling statistics available. Here, there are indications of increased gambling on the most dangerous games.”

In its findings, the KU noted that Shekarabi, in his ministerial position, should only provide correct information from trusted sources.

“The review shows that the government has based its statement on information that does not provide space for any definite conclusion as to whether or not gambling had increased,” read the report from the KU.

“The Minister for Social Security is responsible for his opinions and thus also for the information he provides.”

In support of its stance, the KU cited findings from the Swedish state-owned operator Svenska Spel, which had labelled the sources used by Shekarabi as “misleading” two weeks before he made the claims.

The report also cited data from the country’s gambling regulatory authority Spelinspektionen, which showed that betting and gaming sales were down 6% in March 2020. The available figures for April, at the time of the press conference, also showed a decline.

Gustaf Hoffstedt, secretary general of the Swedish online industry association Branscheforenigen för Onlinespel (BOS), stated that Shekarabi’s claims led to the deposit cap measures being extended until late 2021.

“The Minister’s statements about the alleged but unfounded increase in online casinos during the pandemic are the main reason why this form of gambling is still subject to very strict temporary restrictions,” said Hoffstedt.

“The next step must reasonably be for the government to quickly end these restrictions,” he added. “Ministers must have a basis for their statements, it is not enough to say things just because it fits into the policy you want to pursue.”

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