Online Gambling Law in Sweden
The current gaming laws in Sweden place all the power of gambling in the hands of a state-owned monopoly. Things are changing however, as the European Commission has put great pressure on Sweden to open the country the industry to competition from foreign operators. The threat of EU sanctions has prompted Swedish lawmakers to get serious about making changes to the current system.
As it stands right now, all gambling in Sweden is controlled by Svenska Spel. This includes control over the brick-and-mortar business as well as online gambling. The only legal and licensed gaming site in Sweden is operated by Svenska Spel, but gamblers are under no obligation to limit themselves to that one option.
Like many other nations, Sweden has strict laws for those in the business of gambling, but not for players. It's not a criminal offense to gamble online in Sweden and many foreign operators cater to the Swedish market.
Svenska Spel may have the benefit of a monopoly over online gambling, but the company is also subject to burdensome regulations that make it difficult to compete with foreign providers. For example, online poker at Svenska Spel is limited to Swedes, which greatly limits the player pool. Many gamblers in Sweden prefer to visit unlicensed operators for larger player pools, better sports betting odds, and greater casino game selection.
These gaming sites may be unlicensed in Sweden, but they do hold licenses in other reputable jurisdictions. They are located in places where online gambling is legal and argue they have no obligation to follow the laws of other nations, especially when those laws violate EU trade agreements.
Gaming Legislation in Sweden
There are two major pieces of legislation that shape online gambling today in Sweden. Here's a quick look at each.
The 1994 Lotteries Act
The Lotteries Act regulates how lotteries, guessing games for money, bingo, gaming machines, roulette, dice games, and card games may be run in Sweden. It gives full authority to the Gaming Board of Sweden to issue licenses and ensure games are run properly.
The act covers a full range of activities, but the biggest impact it had was to keep all lottery-style games in full view of the state. Lotteries and other games may only be offered by non-profit charity groups and government approved operators such as the national lottery and certain horse racing groups.
In addition, the act makes it illegal to promote unlawful and foreign lotteries. The stated goal of the Lotteries Act is to ensure the games it regulates remain free from criminal activity and do not harm the public welfare.
The 1999 Casinos Act
The Casinos Act was enacted in 1999 to further regulate roulette games, dice games, card games, and "similar games arranged on premises that are principally used for this purpose." Much of the legislation deals with land-based casinos. It sets age limits, prohibitions on issuing credit to gamblers, rules for keeping records, and a variety of other regulations that pertain to running a gambling operation.
An amendment was added to the Lotteries Act in 2002 in order to bring the legislation up to date with online gaming. The amendment gave Svenska Spel the authority to host online games and act as the sole licensed provider of internet betting in Sweden.
Sweden vs. the EU
The European Union has long been on Sweden's case for breaking international trade agreements. The EU has stated numerous times that the government monopoly on gambling is a violation. Sweden has responded numerous times stating that it has every intention for opening the market to foreign competition and allowing operators to offer their services to Swedes.
Things have become more serious in recent years as the EU has threatened international sanctions on Sweden. This has prompted the government to take the directives seriously and look into opening the market to competition. The latest word we have is that Sweden plans to pass legislation by the end of 2014.
However, the Swedish government has a history of saying "changes are imminent" without ever following through. Gambling is very profitable for Sweden, and the government is reluctant to open the industry to competition.
We believe Sweden is likely to pass this legislation eventually. Swedes face no penalties for playing at unlicensed sites, so the market is effectively already open to competition. Sweden could easily loosen regulations on its one licensed operator to make it more competitive while simultaneously allowing foreign operators to enter the market, pay licensing fees, and pay taxes.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015
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