Is Sweden finally getting round to re-regulating its e-gaming sector? Yes, it actually looks that way, and the wind of change comes from a rather surprising direction: the relatively new centre-left government.
Secretary General, BOS
The Association of Online Gambling Operators, Sweden
Is Sweden finally getting round to re-regulating its e-gaming sector?
Yes, it actually looks that way, and the wind of change comes from a rather surprising direction: the relatively new centre-left government.
The Social Democrat-Green coalition was elected less than a year ago after eight years of centre-right governance. The previous government was a staunch advocate of free trade, with one exception: gambling. In this policy area, nothing really happened during those eight years, despite the fact that the then Prime Minister had declared, prior to his first election as party leader, that the gambling monopoly had to go.
Nothing happened in politics, that is to say. Meanwhile, within the gambling business itself, everything happened, and today the companies outside of the Swedish gambling monopoly hold a larger share of the online gambling market than the companies of the traditional monopoly.
Sweden’s gambling legislation has traditionally been and still is very disconnected from the realities and demands of the market. For this reason, the new “Gambling Minister” Ardalan Shekarabi, from the Social Democratic party, last October announced that the legislation shall be changed in favour of a license system. Mr Shekarabi appears to be a firm believer in a license system but it was probably not a coincidence that the EU commission declared it would sue Sweden over its discriminating legislation on the very same day that the Minister made his announcement.
Almost a year has passed since then. What has happened? Not much, to be honest. But the legislative process is expected to get a new infusion of energy within the next week or two. The reason for this is the issue of time. Minister Shekarabi has set the ambitious goal of having a new gambling regulation up and running prior to the next general election in Sweden, which occurs in September 2018. To accomplish this, the Minister has set an equally ambitious time schedule:
Autumn 2015: Inquiry starts
Winter 2016/17: Report from the inquiry
Pre-summer 2017: Consideration to stakeholders and their reply
Autumn 2017: Proposal for new legislation to the Council on Legislation for consideration + EU notification
Dec. 2017: Government bill to the Parliament
Therefore, it is expected that the government’s investigation will begin any day now. According to our sources, the government has come a long way in the process of appointing a chairman and directives of the investigation.
From a business perspective, the most interesting question is not if or when Sweden will have a new gambling regulation, but rather if the licences will be attractive enough for companies to want to apply for one. While public health and consumer protection must be at the centre of any new gambling regulation, we worry that this, along with state revenues, may be the government’s only concerns. Other stakeholders, including my own association, emphasize the fact that Sweden is a gambling industry wonder that contributes to Swedish society in profound ways, in addition to being taxpayers. We also worry that the government may underestimate the importance of creating a system that actively attracts companies to apply for licenses. Sweden is and will continue to be an open society and the success of a license system must be built on attractive conditions rather than Internet barriers.
With that said, this is the first government that has understood that embracing a monopoly is the worst choice of all, no matter the premise: consumer protection, state revenue or a prosperous industry.