Swedish gambling operator association Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS) has published an open letter urging Minister for Health and Social Affairs Ardalan Shekarabi to reconsider new temporary restrictions imposed on the country’s casino licensees.
Announced last week, the measures will come into effect from 1 June until the end of 2020 as the country battles the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
From that date, a mandatory SEK5,000 (£408/€470/$510) weekly deposit will be imposed on all players, with new sign-up bonuses capped at SEK100, while the government is also looking into return-to-player (RTP) restrictions.
However, the open letter sets out while these restrictions may be temporary, they could have a negative impact on the Swedish regulated market. The chief executives of William Hill, Kindred Group, LeoVegas, NetEnt and Betsson, all of which hold licences in Sweden, have signed the letter.
The letter, signed by Betsson chief executive Pontus Lindwall, Kindred Group CEO Henrik Tjärnström, LeoVegas' Gusaf Hagman, Therese Hillman of NetEnt and William Hill CEO Ulrik Bengtsson, criticised Shekarabi for not consulting with the industry before announcing the new controls.
The signatories noted operators were already collaborating with the authories on issues such as illegal gambling, a key condition of their licence.
“We operate in a digital world and have direct access to all relevant data needed to evaluate what measures can help strengthen the security of our players while offering attractive products,” the letter said.
“The sad thing is that the government, with Ardalan Shekarabi at the forefront, does not want to talk to stakeholders like us, about how we can work together and, with the support of the insight we possess, develop a well-functioning Swedish gaming market.”
BOS also questioned Shekarabi’s claim that the government views gambling as a key risk for people in the country, in that more people could developer gambling problems as a result of playing online more during the outbreak. The association claimed that far from an increase in activity, its own research suggested an overall decline in gambling levels when compared to data prior to the pandemic.
The letter went on to say that by limiting the amount players can gamble with licensed operators could in turn drive them towards unregulated sites, which do not offer the same levels of protection as legal and licensed platforms, and would not need to abide by the new regulations.
BOS drew on recent findings from independent research firm Copenhagen Economics, which this week published a report claiming that more players are choosing to gamble with black market operators.
“It is not an understatement to say the government failed to defend its own licensing system,” the letter said. “The biggest loss was in online casino, where approximately every fourth player chooses an unlicensed player before a player with a Swedish license.
“Minister Shekarabi knows about this, he also has access to the statistics of a falling channel, but for some inexplicable reason he does not seem worried that more and more players are going to the uncontrolled black market.
“The purpose of the re-regulation, which had broad support in Parliament, was to create a more sustainable and long-term gaming market. Now the minister is about to create a ‘wild west 2.0’ in the gaming market, and this is done in the name of consumer protection,” the signatories wrote. “For us, it is clear that Ardalan Shekarabi does not share our ambition to create a sustainable and safe gaming market as the latest proposal is the best advertisement for players to leave the licensed companies.”
The letter went on to warn that if players are driven to unregulated sites, then those operators that do hold a licence are likely to exit the unregulated market, which could in turn cost the Swedish government billions in lost tax revenue.
“Companies, regardless of industry, want to be where the customers are; if the customers leave, the companies will follow suit,” BOS said. “The Swedish gaming market not only offers players security, it annually contributes billions in much needed tax revenue and investment in sports.
“Month by month, the Swedish gaming market erodes and the risk that security, tax revenue and investment in society will be reduced grows. We wonder why Ardalan Shekarabi wants to undermine his own gambling regulation?”
BOS is not the only industry association to criticise the new regulations. The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) warned that the temporary measure could do more harm to consumer protection efforts rather than protecting players.
It said both the type and nature of the restrictions mean they are not targeted, but could instead encourage players to gamble with unregulated websites. Unlicensed sites targeting Swedish players would not adhere to the new restrictions – and were under no obligation to implement any other consumer protection measures – the association warned.
BOS has been a staunch critic of the Sweden's approach to regulation, last year hitting out at gaming authority Spelinspektionen’s approach to tackling illegal activity in the market, claiming its strict approach to enforcement of licensed operators was not being matched by efforts to stamp out unlicensed gambling.
In February, BOS also blasted Spelinspektionen over an amendment to the country’s gaming rules that would see operators prohibited from offering odds on rule violations, such as a yellow card in football or a fault in tennis.