Swedish court rules on underage betting appeals

| By Daniel O'Boyle
Sweden’s Administrative Court (Förvaltningsrätten) has ruled on 11 appeals against penalties issued by regulator Spelinspektionen for underage betting, cancelling one penalty against Bethard, upholding seven appeals and dismissing three.

Sweden’s Administrative Court (Förvaltningsrätten) has ruled on 11 appeals against penalties issued by regulator Spelinspektionen for underage betting, cancelling one penalty against Bethard, upholding seven appeals and dismissing three.

This saw the court reject the SEK2.5m fine imposed on Bethard for offering odds on sporting events featuring a majority of underage players, one of eight fines levied on operators in July 2019. Spelinspektionen must now reconsider whether the operator should be fined, and if so, how much.

“The offense is not minor or excusable, but also not serious,” the court explained. “It is left to the Gaming Authority to decide whether a penalty fee is to be levied, and if so to what amount.”

In the case of Polar Limited, which operates Coolbet, the Förvaltningsrätten lowered the operator’s penalty from SEK700,000 to SEK650,000.

Polar argued that the Spelinspektionen used different standards for different matches to determine if the majority of participants were aged under 18, by counting non-playing squad members for one match but not another. As a result, Spelinspektionen admitted an error was made and lowered the penalty fee.

The Förvaltningsrätten dismissed an appeal by Bet365, which was fined SEK10m. Bet365, via its Hillside Sports subsidiary, argued that Spelinspektionen’s handling of the case was not transparent or fair, arguing that the independent body that provided information to the Gaming Authority did not perform equal investigations across all licenced sportsbooks, only for the court to reject this argument.

For Casinostugan, which argued that underage betting was only offered due to an error by a technical subcontractor, the Förvaltningsrätten lowered the fee from SEK3.5m to SEK3.0m.

The court also lowered Gaming Innovation Group (GiG) brand Zecure Gaming’s penalty from SEK3.5m to SEK3.0m, after the operator said its offering of an underage match was due to a “single programming error”. The operator also argued the original penalty was disproportionately large, as its betting revenue for the first half of 2019 came to only SEK1m. The original decision prompted GiG to suspend sportsbook operations in Sweden, claiming the regulator had left it in an “impossible position”.

Cherry brand Snabbare Ltd saw its penalty reduced from SEK 9.5m to SEK 8m after the court ruled that a lower fee would be more in line with the principle of proportional punishment, given that Snabbare’s annual turnover came to SEK9.70bn.

The Förvaltningsrätten reduced a penalty for Hajper from SEK4.5m to SEK4.0m and ComeOn, another Cherry brand, from 6.5m to SEK6.0m for similar reasons.

Fluter-owned brand Betfair saw its appeal dismissed. The operator was handed a SEK5.5m penalty, but argued that it should be dismissed as the event in question was an under-19s football match, and while the majority of the players in the match in question where under 18, the majority in the competition were older.

However, the court said it was “undeniable” that Betfair offered betting on an event in which most participants were underage.

The court also dismissed an appeal from The Stars Group and GVC’s ElectraWorks, who made a similar argument to Betfair, against SEK10m and SEK5.5m penalties, respectively.

In April, the regulator issued warnings to a number of operators that were found to have offered odds on an Allsvenska football match featuring players under the age of 18.

Efforts were then ramped up in July, when it levied the official warnings and penalties ranging from SEK700,000 and SEK10m to eight operators. Betfair, Bethard Group, Casinostugan, ElectraWorks, bet365, Polar Limited, The Stars Group and Zecure Gaming were all hit with fines.

However this sparked an outcry from the operators affected, which argued that Spelinspektionen had not been clear about how it planned to enforce the prohibition on U18 betting, such as whether matches featuring any underage player were out of bounds. Swedish operator association Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS) also stepped in at this point, calling for more guidance from the regulator on how it interpreted the Swedish Gaming Act.

In August, the regulator issued four more fines to ComeOn, Snabbare, Hajper and Legolas.Bet.

In December, Spelinspektionen revealed that despite issuing sanctions to licensees on 21 occasions in 2019, Åland Islands-based Paf was the only operator not to appeal.

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