As part of its stern initiative to protect its citizen from gambling harm in the current Coronavirus crisis, the Swedish government has moved to draft a fresh set of measures that will tighten and extend its ongoing gambling industry restrictions until the end of June 2021. Since the novel virus was declared a pandemic earlier in the year, Sweden went ahead and introduced a slew of anti-gambling restrictions that came under fire across the industry.
Some of the much criticized heavy-handed regulations that Sweden enforced starting June 1st included the capping of weekly deposits to a maximum of SEK 5,000 ( about $500), a weekly loss limit of SEK 5,000 and restricting casinos from offering bonuses worth anything over SEK 100 (about $10). On top of that, new time limits were also introduced in player’s gaming accounts to encourage safer gambling habits.
These and a handful of other measures were to last only until the end of 2020, but now, they now plan to be extended until at least the first half of 2021. The new memorandum in support of the extension of the restrictions has already been submitted for a consultation period of two weeks which will be ending on the 23rd of November.
Keeping Gamblers Safe By all Means, But at What Cost?
In the eyes of the Swedish government, social isolation due to the ongoing COVID-19 safety precautions that led to the closure of brick-and-mortar casino facilities combine with financial vulnerability could be a trigger for irresponsible gambling habits. So, in the government’s defense, this move though harsh, is aimed at protecting consumers from unnecessary financial loss because of the vulnerable position that locals are in due to the pandemic.
Ardalan Shekarabi, the Minister of Social Insurance in Sweden came forward to defend the new memorandum for extension of the tough regulations by stating that;
“We see that the development of covid-19 is going in the wrong direction in several parts of the country. The situation is very serious. In the wake of the pandemic, we see continued risks in the area of gambling, which means that we need to act to reduce the risks for vulnerable consumers,”
When the tougher measures first came into effect in June, industry leaders, including trade bodies like the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) tried to reason with the government for a more lenient approach but the Swedish administration remained adamant. Spelinspektionen, the gaming regulator in Sweden also joined the industry in disapproving the new restrictions. The country’s gaming ombudsman warned that the local gambling industry was becoming overregulated and to a point where it would end up being unsustainable for licensed operators serving Swedish players.
The Swedish watchdog further cautioned that such tight measures could end up pushing gamblers to unregulated markets with more lucrative options despite the poor consumer protections that are usually set up by offshore operators. Similarly, the EGBA also pointed out that such severe top-down regulations could instead end up leading to a spike in underground gambling.