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Svenska Spel reports no evidence of Covid-19 problem gambling spike

| By Robert Fletcher
State-owned Swedish gambling operator Svenska Spel said that while it did not see an increase in problem gambling during the first wave of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country, players with existing issues gambled more.
Svenska Spel ATG

Studies presented to the Svenska Spel Independent Research Council, during its annual research day on Monday (12 October) all showed similar findings.

The consensus was that overall gambling spend among Swedish consumers fell during the early months of the pandemic, but problem gambling remained level.

Filip Lindner, a researcher at Karolinska Institutet, said the decline in gambling spend was not surprising, given the drop in sports betting due to the cancellation and postponement of many sports events. He also saw a clear shift among online players from sports betting to casino.

Lindner saw no evidence of an increase in problem gambling behaviour during the first wave of Covid-19 in Sweden, he added.

Anders Håkansson, a professor at Lund University, agreed with Lindner in that there was a decline in overall activity, but noted players who had suffered with problem gambling in the past tended to spend more than other consumers.

However, Håkansson and Anna Söderpalm Gordh, a senior lecturer at the University of Gothenburg, who both also work at addiction centres in Sweden, said they had not seen any increase in referrals to their respective clinics.

“These are two rather small and limited studies from which one may not draw any major conclusions, but they give indications that gambling did not increase,” Svenska Spel’s independent research council chair, Sara Lindholm, said.

The findings seem to reflect financial results posted by Svenska Spel in July, with the operator having reported a 9.6% year-on-year decline in revenue for the first half, putting this down to the impact of Covid-19 on its business.

Overall revenue for the six months through to 30 June reached SEK3.70bn (£322.6m/€357.3m/$420.5m), as an increase in Svenska Spel’s Tur lottery business was offset by declines in its online Sport & Casino and land-based Casino Cosmpol and Vegas divisions.

Meanwhile, the council was also presented with separate research into criminal activity linked with problem gambling.

Covering Swedish rulings during the period 2014-2018, Per Binde, an associate professor at the University of Gothenburg, looked at a number of factors, such as gender, age groups, type of crime, where they lived and how the game was linked to crime.

Binde identified a difference between genders, in that women who committed such crimes more often lived in smaller cities and had no previous criminal background, whereas men tended to live in larger cities and have a criminal record.
“The desperation of people that drives them to crime to be able to finance their gambling addiction is extremely tragic,” Lindholm said.

Publication of the new research comes after AB Trav och Galopp (ATG) this week said its fears of a sudden rise in problem gambling in the wake of Covid-19 have so far proved to be unfounded.

However, the operator also reiterated its support for the country’s casino loss limits. ATG’s head of sustainability and corporate social responsibility, Maria Guggenberger, said the operator’s loss limit introduced in April as Sweden dealt with Covid-19 has been a great success.

Guggenberger also noted that gambling addiction helplines received fewer calls during the period from March to May.

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