Swedish state monopoly - update

It did not take long for Scandinavian and other online gambling companies to react to the publication of a Swedish commission report on loosening the stranglehold that the Svenska Spel state monopoly has on Swedish gambling (see previous InfoPowa report). Criticism of the recommendations came almost immediately, aimed mainly at the suggestion that only sportsbetting should be liberated.

Betsson's CEO, Pontus Lindwall, described the recommendations as a waste of time for his company and other major operators, who had devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to providing the commission with expert input on how best to set up a regulated and open market in Sweden.

Lindwall said that the commissioners should have guarded against discriminating against private operators. "We were hoping for some kind of harmonisation where we could compete on a level playing field, whether it be taxes, access to market and so on, " he said. "Instead, the Inquiry has gone completely the other way and wants to allow only Svenska Spel the opportunity to offer all interactive gaming products except for online sports betting.

"They talk about restricting the games offered by private operators when in fact it is about protecting the state finances. As long as the regulations are this discriminatory they will be a non-starter."

The Swedish Inquiry on Gambling recommended licensing sports betting products to private operators by 2011 subject to strict regulation and local licensing. However, the recommendations stopped short of including poker and casino activities, which it said carried an increased risk for problem gambling, and should therefore remain the exclusive preserve of the state monopoly.

It is debateable whether such a half-measure is likely to appease the European Commission, which has been pushing Sweden to comply with EU principles of free and fair movement of trade and services among EU member nations.

Unibet chief executive Petter Nylander said the Swedish authorities had been motivated to make concessions in their monopolistic policy because they were nervous about the possibility of being taken before the European Court of Justice by the European Commission, and the consequences of losing such an action. He claimed that the Swedish government was therefore "...trying to keep the Commission happy by giving private operators the minimum and allow them to offer sports betting products to Swedish customers."

Nylander claimed that the Swedish Ministry of Finance had dictated much of the draft, and said in his view it was trying to keep as much revenue from the monopoly as possible.

Swedish operator Expekt expressed surprise at the recommendations, which it characterised as a weak proposal. The recommendations still contravene European law and deny Swedish punters the right to choose which gaming customer they want to play with, the company opined. A spokesman added that maintaining most of the Svenska Spel monopoly whilst allowing only a small part of the market to be free was not a satisfactory or viable solution

Leading gambling companies Unibet, Ladbrokes, Betsson and Expekt will be holding a press conference mid-week where the recommendations will be discussed.

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