Spelinspektionen: online gambling in decline amid Covid-19

Online gambling rates in Sweden have declined since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), according to new data from the country’s Gambling Authority (Spelinspektionen).

The data, part of the of the first of a series of monthly reports Spelinspektionen was tasked with producing during the crisis, found that overall betting and gaming turnover in March and April was 5.9% and 5.4% year-on-year respectively. This contrasts with January, when online gaming turnover was up 21%, and February, for which a 9% increase was recorded.

The authority did note, however, that some of the comparability may be affected by the fact that Sweden’s market only opened at the start of 2019.

The regulator said that while casino play increased, the decline in sports betting was drastic enough to ensure that overall online betting and gaming was down 6% for the year to date.

“Virtually all betting activities except horse racing ceased in the middle of March, when most major sporting events were canceled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” Spelinspektionen said. “An example of this is the turnover of two major gaming companies with a focus on betting decreased significantly by 40% and 51% in March 2020, compared to March 2019.

“Several of the larger companies that are more focused on online casino games fared significantly better. As a whole, the category of online gaming and betting sales decreased by 6% in March 2020 compared to March 2019.”

However, the authority added that 55% of online licensees reported growth in turnover for March, based on tax returns, while 58% did so in April.

This decline in play casts doubt on the reasoning behind online casino restrictions proposed by Sweden’s Minister for Health and Social Affairs Ardalan Shekarabi and set to come into effect on 1 June.

The rules include a SEK5,000 (£401/€459/$495) weekly deposit limit and a SEK100 cap on bonuses. These rules have already drawn criticism from stakeholders across the Swedish gambling industry, as well as the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA). Spelinspektionen, meanwhile, said the rules could benefit illegal operators rather than enhancing player protection.

The Spelpaus self-exclusion scheme, meanwhile, saw a “continuous increase” in self-exclusions, with the regulator not noting a growth or slowing in the rate of this increase. As of 14 May, 51,674 people had voluntarily blocked access to gambling sites.

Spelinspektionen added that many of these rules would be difficult to implement by 1 June, echoing the concerns aired by many operators earlier this month.

“The Authority wishes to point out that the proposed rules may affect key parts of the licensees’ technical systems,” Spelinspektionen said. “These changes can be both time-consuming and require re-certification of the systems. This entails a great risk that many licensees will not be able to meet the new requirements within the proposed time.”

The Authority added that players could deposit far more than SEK5,000 in a single week through playing with various different operators. It said that it was “not possible” to institute a national register or deposits or losses in order to monitor player activity between operators.

In terms of new measures to strengthen player protection, Spelinspektionen said introducing a B2B supplier licence could help substantially in the fight against online gambling. This suggestion has already been put forward by Svenska Spel and Betsson in their submissions to the consultation held by the Swedish government on its proposed new controls.

“Spelinspektionen sees several benefits of introducing such a scheme as soon as possible,” it said. “Such an arrangement would also reduce the administrative burden for the licensees by shifting the emphasis of the certification procedure to the gaming software providers.”

In addition, the regulator said that a “debt register”, as proposed by the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen) could be “more important for the protection of players than many other measures”.

This register would, according to FI, “allow for creditors to get a comprehensive picture of consumer debt,” which Spelinspektionen said would make it more difficult for players to borrow money to gamble.

“A major problem with gambling is the over-indebtedness that burdens many people,” Spelinspektionen said. “With a well-functioning credit check, this type of indebtedness could be avoided.”

It also noted that enforcement of rules prohibiting marketing to self-excluded customers could be improved if the Authority and the Swedish Consumer Agency (Konsumentverket) were able to share more data.

The regulator added that it has been collaborating with law enforcement authorities in Sweden and elsewhere to fight illegal gambling sites, but said it was too early to mention progress in this area. It said it had identified 20 new operators who “may be eligible for a possible injunction” for illegally targeting Swedish players in the coming months, on top of 11 operators who have already received injunctions.

In addition, it said it had conducted a survey in order to understand links between affiliate marketing and unlicensed gambling sites.

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