The Norwegian Gambling Authority (NGA) has said that companies it has claimed were operating illegally in Norway, including Betsson and Kindred, have begun to withdraw.
The regulator named Kindred Group brands Unibet, Maria Casino, Bingo.com and Storspiller; Betsson brands including Betsson, Betsafe, Nordicbet, Casinoeuro and NorgesAutomaten; bet365; and ComeOn and its brands Folkeriket, GetLucky, Mobilebet and Mobilautomaten.
The withdrawals show “that regulation has an effect”, the regulator said in a statement on Thursday (September 14). “It has become much more difficult for the illegal companies to operate in Norway.”
So far, Hillside, the unit of bet365 operating in Norway, has been cleared from the possibility of fines, while the others have yet to pass review, “as they have yet not presented us with a satisfying action plan for changes in the way they offer gambling in Norway”, said Trude Gjeitanger Høgseth Feld, a lawyer for the authority, in response to emailed questions.
For several years, the regulator has been pressuring online gambling companies to leave Norway and has recently been granted increased powers by the government, which has aggressively defended its gambling monopolies, Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto.
Pressure to stop gambling advertising has succeeded and a ban on payment processing “works well”, the regulator claims.
Kindred and Betsson have previously been ordered to leave Norway, while in August, bet365 and ComeOn were warned that the authority believed it had legal grounds to stop them from doing business there.
Contacted for comment, Kindred said it has a “long-term of objective” of gaining a licence in Norway.
“We are of the opinion that we have never been on the Norwegian market, but offer gambling as a service on the international entertainment market pursuant to a licence from Malta,” a spokesperson said.
“Norwegian residents have legally and at their own free will chosen to participate in our offer,” the spokeswoman said.
But “disagreements” with the NGA led to Kindred making changes that it believes have met the regulator’s requirements since 2019, with changes including moving from Norwegian language to English, the change of website name from a Norwegian word, moving to a so-called “dot.com” site and discontinuing “all advertising and marketing activities” in the country, the spokeswoman said.
In a statement, trade group the Norwegian Industry Association for Online Games (NBO) said its members “are established and regulated in other jurisdictions and offer their services based on the fundamental freedoms secured by the [European Economic Area] agreement”.
“NBO members are responsible and have, because of dialogue with Norwegian authorities, adapted their offer,” the group said. “Norwegians may still use the services legally offered by NBO’s members in the international market, meaning offers not directed at the Norwegian market.”
Contacted for comment, a ComeOn spokesperson said it was “fully supportive” of NBO’s position.
The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) argued that “neighbouring countries like Sweden and Finland have already recognised the benefits of transitioning from a monopoly system to a licensing model, leaving Norway as the only country in mainland Europe committed to an exclusive gambling monopoly”.
“We strongly urge the Norwegian authorities to consider the advantages of a licensing model, which can effectively meet the evolving needs of its players and foster a more comprehensive approach to gambling regulation that prioritises player safety,” said secretary-general Maarten Haijer.
“That several of the largest gambling companies that operate illegally in Norway withdraw, will prevent gambling problems and contribute to a safer and more responsible gambling offer in the Norwegian market,” according to Henrik Nordal, director of the Norwegian Lottery Authority, sister to the NGA.
But the NGA is monitoring several other websites, and is “prepared to start several cases unless the illegal companies actively inform us that they intend to leave Norway”, Høgseth Felde said.
One clear solution would be for any of what the regulator calls “illegal companies” to start geoblocking, she said, that is, block access to websites from Norway.
“The companies will have to make their own decisions on how to comply with Norwegian law, and we are prepared to offer advice should they wish so,” Høgseth Felde said.
“Should they choose to implement other measures to comply with our warning/order we will need to assess the suggested measures to determine whether they are in compliance,” she said.
Additional reporting by Joe Ewens.