Sweden’s government has approved plans to introduce a number of temporary restrictions for the country’s regulated online casino market as part of an effort to protect players from gambling-related harm during the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The new measures will come into effect from 2 July and remain in place until the end of 2020, with the restrictions to apply to online casino games and slots.
Consumers will face an SEK5,000 (£428/€476/$540) mandatory weekly deposit cap, while licensees will only be able to offer bonuses up to SEK100.
Players will also be required to set time limits as to how long they play online casino games and slots with licensed operators in Sweden.
“As a result of the current pandemic, we see a mix of circumstances that together create great risks in the gaming sector,” social security minister Ardalan Shekarabi said. “These need to be counteracted. With these measures, the government will strengthen the protection of Swedish consumers.”
In addition, the government approved SEK500,000 in funding for the Public Health Authority (Folkhälsomyndigheten) to carry out further studies into problem gambling during the pandemic.The organisation will be required to report its findings to the Ministry of Social Affairs by the end of February 2021.
“We need in-depth knowledge of how problem gambling is affected by the corona pandemic,” social minister Lena Hallengren said. “This is important for preventing gambling addiction in the future.”
The decision to implement the temporary measures will after licensed operators and industry associations strongly opposed the plans. Shekarabi had previously stated that the restrictions would also cover sports betting and horse racing, but these were later made exempt in response to criticism.
However, despite these amendments, Swedish gambling operator association Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS) last week urged the government to drop the measures, saying that the most recent set of changes would seriously harm the market and its licensees by pushing players to unlicensed providers.
Sweden’s gambling regulator Spelinspektionen has also been critical of the plans, this week warning that amendments to the rules may make them even more difficult to implement by 2 July.
Meanwhile, chief executives from a host of Swedish licensees signed a petition – organised by BOS – in protest of the measures. Betsson, Kindred Group, LeoVegas, NetEnt and William Hill were among those that spoke out against the plans.
Earlier this week, chief executives from nine major Sweden-facing operators and suppliers put forward a series of alternative player protection measures that they said would be more effective than the stake limit.
However, with government approval all but securing the measures, operators and organisations will now have to prepare to implement the restrictions from next month.
Fintan Costello, managing director of affilite marketing specialist BonusFinder.com, condemned the decision to forge ahead with the restrictions, arguing the measures will hinder channelisation efforts, and put operators at risk of enforcement action due to the short timescale for their implementation.
“This decision by the Swedish government will only drive more players to the black market which is just a click away,” Costello explained. “Further bonus restrictions and relying on hard deposit limits instead of affordability checks will make the legal market even less appealing to local players.
“Furthermore, giving licensees only two weeks to implement these changes and alter marketing will be a huge and costly challenge for operators.”