Nordic Restrictions Aid Unlicensed Operators, Argue Trade Groups

September 13, 2021
Restrictions across the Nordic region are being driven by politics as opposed to data and will force players to use unlicensed operators, according to the heads of the Swedish and Danish online trade groups.


Restrictions across the Nordic region are being driven by politics as opposed to data and will force players to use unlicensed operators, according to the heads of the Swedish and Danish online trade groups.

Danish operators should prepare for advertising restrictions, Danish Online Gambling Association (DOGA) chief executive Morten Rønde warned during a European Gaming Q3 Meetup panel on September 9.

Rønde fears such restrictions would have a negative effect on the percentage of players that choose to play with online licensed operators.

Unlike in Sweden, Denmark never introduced temporary COVID-19 limits on its gambling market, after early analysis by the gambling regulator removed fears of an explosion of online gambling.

But the Social Democrats, the party with the most seats in the country’s legislature, has long-held plans for reforming the gambling market, in particular imposing advertising restrictions and even floating the idea of a potential ad ban, according to Rønde.

However, the DOGA head said COVID-19 shifted the current parliament’s focus elsewhere, meaning restrictions are unlikely to be in place before 2022.

Dinos Stranomitis, the co-founder and COO of sportsbook software provider Altenar, believes an advertising ban will not help Nordic markets achieve their aims of protecting consumers.

The Altenar co-founder warns unlicensed operators will circumvent such bans and licensed operators will be forced to promote their products elsewhere while “people pretend everything is fine”.

“I want a society that educates operators and regulators how to do things properly,” Stranomitis said.

Separately, the first decision from the Danish Gambling Advertising Board was announced on September 6, regarding a complaint about a TV commercial for "Mr. Green Casino”, which appeared prior to the Christmas calendar or Juleønsket broadcast.

TV 2 was accused by the complainant of, therefore, running the ad during a children's programme, but the channel proved to the board it was instead aired during a family content/entertainment broadcast, in line with the Gaming Act or the Code of Conduct.

Rønde, a member of the advertising board, is hopeful a ban is less likely than it once was, as the government minister responsible for gambling “is still very interested in making changes”, but has become more “balanced” in his views.

Although DOGA fears advertising restrictions, it does support changes to the market, in particular potential payment blocking powers and even supplier licensing, in a bid to deter illegal gambling.

Minna Ripatti, the moderator of the panel and founding partner of Legal Gaming, agreed that incoming payment service provider powers in Finland should help authorities tackle illegal gambling.

The powers included in the draft proposal to amend the Lotteries Act also provide tools to the National Police Board of Finland to take action against individuals marketing gambling online.

“Several operators received in the course of this summer letters from the police board about their marketing measures showed an increased appetite from the Finnish authorities. We will see what will happen next year. [Payment] blocking is not as simple as it sounds,” Ripatti said.

In a separate panel held on the same day on Finnish gambling policy, panellists argued payment blocking would be less effective at tackling illegal operators than introducing a licensing system.

Gustaf Hoffstedt, the Swedish Trade Association for Online Gambling (BOS) secretary-general, explained his group's ongoing battle to have Sweden’s temporary gambling measures end on September 29, when the country will lift other COVID-19 restrictions.

“We went from unregulated monopoly to licensed market and that is beautiful, with fairly attractive taxation. But we started so well with channelisation of 95 percent, everyone wanted to participate in the licensed system and the illegal market almost disappeared. Now two years later the illegal market is growing and it’s so unnecessary,” Hoffstedt said.

The BOS head believes the problem is not the regulator, but the government’s temptations to implement measures that only sound good for consumer protection, but in reality drive players to unlicensed operators.

“The problem players are often high volume players and they are the first to leave the licensed market. Protecting vulnerable people was the main reason the government gave for relicensing. This is a complete failure,” Hoffstedt said.

One potential solution to help all European regulators tackle illegal gambling would be increased cooperation from within the European Union, according to Rønde.

“A lack of interest from the EU for standardisation is creating a patchwork of measures that are not working as intended for local political reasons. We have bigger challenges such as illegal gambling, which I would argue is an EU problem,” Rønde said.

Regulators have vowed to continue pushing for increased cross-border cooperation after the European Commission rejected calls to have the Expert Group on Online Gambling reinstated.

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