Last week’s Scandinavian Gaming Show gave a group of European trade association chiefs a chance to gather on stage together, lamenting shared woes on unhelpful politicians who select only the best ideas for crackdowns from their neighbours.
Peter-Paul de Goeij, the head of the Dutch online trade group NOGA, lamented what he sees as politicians’ lack of understanding of channelisation.
The Dutch government set a target of 80 percent of online gambling taking place on the legal market within two years of the country's re-regulation and it has quickly surpassed that target well ahead of schedule.
“Politicians in the Netherlands seem to have grown tired of channelisation” as a result, he said, “but channelisation is a verb, you have to keep working at it. The situation will be different tomorrow.”
Advertising restrictions, including a ban on the use of role models, have recently been enacted in the Netherlands. A further ban on so-called “targeted advertising” is expected to arrive next year.
“If we stop advertising, black market operators will pop the champagne bottles,” said de Goeij.
An appetite for restrictive measures in one country is not just a challenge for the local industry.
Tom De Clercq, the head of Belgian trade online association BAGO, said of his nation’s lawmakers: “They see examples in Netherlands and Germany and think ‘that’s a good idea', but they lack an overall plan.”
Buoyed by confidence among the conference’s Finnish delegation that re-regulation is now highly likely in one of the few remaining monopoly systems in Europe, the collection of trade group executives were asked what advice they would give Finland as it reworks its laws.
De Clercq warned that speed was vital. After Belgium passed its new online gambling legislation it took eight years to finish developing secondary regulations, he said. The Netherlands infamously took ten years to pass draft legislation.
Morten Ronde, lawyer and head of Danish trade group Spillebranchen, warned that a potential licensed industry in Finland must be wary of the inevitable backlash, and he noted that the speed at which a market goes from opening up to cracking down is increasing with each new country that regulates.
Public sentiment turning against online gambling took ten years in Denmark, two years in Sweden and just a weekend in the Netherlands, he joked.
Rules around product and marketing should also not be too restrictive if the Finnish government wants to reverse the shrinking channelisation rate.
“You have to allow for bonusing, etc. that [the grey market] are already doing," he said.
Meanwhile, in Sweden, elections have seen a change of government and the exit of high-profile gambling minister Ardalan Shekarabi.
The new right-wing ruling coalition might be seen as broadly less inclined towards gambling restrictions on a philosophical basis, said Gustaf Hoffman, BOS trade group chief executive, and himself a former MP.
But new gambling minister Niklas Wykman is a disciple of a former finance ministry boss who famously favoured Svenska Spel and supported its former monopoly operators.
It remains to be seen how this will have an impact on Swedish gambling policy going forward, but if Wykman follows his mentor’s blueprint, “we are in for challenging times”, said Hoffman, who added he will be meeting the minister later this month.