When people visit or move to Sweden, one of the first things they may notice is that gambling seems to be everywhere. Most supermarkets have little gambling booths where players can scratch open their recently purchased lottery tickets. If you turn on the radio, you are likely to hear catchy casino jingles designed to entice listeners to play. Television channels have a high number of alluring adverts for online casinos and gambling apps.
Gambling is everywhere. It is hard to escape it. The market is growing annually and there is constant expansion into new areas of gambling. The Swedish government, however, is working on new regulatory measures to combat this addiction. Thousands of Swedes have serious gambling problems and tens of thousands more are at serious risk, including those that are legally too young to gamble.
The gambling problem in Sweden
According to the most recent survey by the Swedish Public Health Authority, about 0.4%, or 31 000 of the population between ages 16 and 84, have a serious gambling addiction. 2%, or 134 000 people, have some gambling dependency and another 4%, 322 000 people, are at risk of becoming problem gamblers. Many more suffer from the negative consequences of gambling.
Recent changes to the law are acknowledging the fact that gambling addiction should be taken very seriously, even treated as an illness. As of the 1st of January 2018, issues with gambling for money are now in the Social Services Act and in the Health Care Act. This means that municipalities and county councils are required to try and curb gambling dependencies. They also have to provide support and treatment for people who have serious problems with gambling. Gambling addicts now have the same right to receive help and support as people with alcohol or drug problems. This is a mark both of how serious gambling addiction can be, and that the Swedish government is not taking the issue lightly.
To enforce stronger consumer protection and to limit the negative effects of gambling, the Swedish government adopted a new bill in April 2018 to re-regulate the gambling market and to introduce a new gambling act and license system.
Re-regulating the market and new gambling laws
"Unregulated gambling has taken over and gambling is used in criminal activities. It is 14 years since the first of a line of gambling inquiries was appointed. It is now time for us to move from words to action and regain control of the Swedish gambling market," says Minister for Public Administration Ardalan Shekarabi.
The gambling act now being proposed will mean that anyone operating a business in the Swedish gambling market must have an authorised licence. Operators without a licence will be shut out. A new offence will be introduced to criminal law: gambling fraud. Furthermore, a special council will be established to tackle match-fixing. The gambling act is now being processed in the Swedish parliament and by the Swedish Gambling Authority and is expected to go into effect from January 1st, 2019.
To regulate the gambling market, the market will be divided into sectors. A competitive sector, where skilled wagerers can theoretically make a living, will primarily include online gambling and betting. There will be a sector reserved for lotteries and bingo. Finally, one sector will be reserved for the central government such as state-owned casinos and gambling on token machines. Competitive gambling will be taxed at 18%. For gambling areas where players cannot expect to profit in the long term, such as casinos and bingo halls, players will still not be taxed on their winnings. The re-regulating of the gambling market will go in to effect simultaneously with the new gambling act.
A growing, expanding market
Despite the stricter upcoming laws and re-regulation of the gambling market, the market is not in decline. On the contrary, the gross gaming revenue of the Swedish gambling market continues to grow, increasing by 3.2% in 2017, compared to 2016. However, a small slowdown has been recorded, as the previous period's growth was 5.3%. Major gambling operators in Sweden report that their land-based gambling is decreasing, but their online gambling is growing rapidly. This is very noticeable by the surge in online casinos. On average, every Swede aged over 18 lost 2 824 SEK through gambling in 2017. Of that sum, 2 133 SEK was lost to operators with Swedish permits and 691 SEK to operators without Swedish permits. The Swedish government is keen to regulate this market as operators without a Swedish licence do not pay taxes in Sweden.
Another noticeable trend in the gambling market comes from video games. At first glance, it might not be seen as a conventional gambling arena. Many modern video games, however, have mechanisms similar to gambling. Players can spend money to unlock in-game rewards such as digital visuals which can be used in the game. These rewards often come in a package or 'loot box' which offers players a chance to win a very rare, much sought after reward. That makes it very tempting to buy more 'loot boxes' to increase your chance of winning said rewards. Additionally, any of these in-game virtual rewards can be traded for a virtual currency or even real money, making it an act of gambling according to Swedish law.
“According to the definition of a lottery, a prize involves winning money or something that is worth money. The implication of this is that prizes must have a certain economic value in the real world. Anyone who participates in a computer game event determined by chance must therefore win something that, outside of the computer game's virtual environment, can be bought and sold for real money for it to be considered a prize in accordance with the Swedish Lotteries Act.” Lotteri Inspektionen
Yet many platforms and games seem to be unhindered and uncontrolled by this act so far. This may be why the Swedish Gambling Authority is making a significant regulatory change to this large and growing industry and has stated that it is to increase its staff by 50%. It will also change official working processes and invest in new IT systems.
Gambling in Sweden today
With the planned changes to the gambling market to come, the Swedish parliament is preparing to vote on the proposed law which seems likely to pass. The Swedish Gambling authority is preparing to arrange fact-finding meetings for those operators seeking to get a licence for the next year. They should be able to apply for these licences from the 1st of August 2018. Consumers in Sweden are unlikely to notice any changes this year, but may notice that some operators without a Swedish licence will be more difficult, even impossible to reach by 2019.
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