Norway’s culture minister has defended state-run operator Norsk Tipping’s decision not to participate in a Nordic research project that maps changes to playing patterns during the pandemic.
Progress Party lawmaker Silje Hjemdal accused the government in a question submitted on January 9 of using the “poor excuse” of avoiding any association with co-participant Kindred Group to avoid a better understanding of gambling behaviour in Norway.
Hjemdal, whose party holds the fourth-largest number of seats in the legislature, said the decision reflected the “arrogant attitude” of those in control of the monopoly.
The question to the government followed a report in local media that the University of Bergen’s Norwegian Competence Centre for Gambling and Gaming Research moved the COVID-19 project to Helsinki because Norsk Tipping would not participate.
Culture minister Anette Trettebergstuen acknowledged in her reply in February 2021 that Norsk Tipping received a request from the University of Bergen to participate in a joint Nordic research project.
When it was asked to join the project, the ministry was told it would include Finnish state-owned Veikkaus, Swedish state-owned Svenska Spel, Danish state-owned Danske Spil, as well as Sweden’s ATG and Norway’s Norsk Rikstoto, two publicly controlled providers of trotting games.
Norway’s government owns Norsk Tipping and administers it through the culture ministry.
Trettebergstuen saw the project as “important” and wanted to contribute data to it.
However, private companies with licences in Sweden and Denmark were also invited to take part, and that is when the ministry learned that Kindred Group would be joining the project.
Trettebergstuen said Kindred Group operates in Norway “without a licence” and that the ministry would not contribute to “legitimising” its operations.
Norsk Tipping has rejected several requests to cooperate with companies in a similar position. These companies are also excluded from supplier contracts with Norsk Tipping, according to Trettebergstuen.
The state-owned operator is undertaking a separate research contract that will cover the same issues, Hjemdal said.
“The fact that Norway's gaming monopolist must have its own research for this when it had the opportunity to participate in a larger project appears even more strange,” she said.
Kindred Group's 2020 annual report noted the company appealed a 2019 cease and desist order from the Norwegian Gambling Authority (NGA) and “fundamentally questions the enforceability of the NGA’s decision”.
Kindred has argued there is no ban on Norwegians participating in foreign gambling activities, pursuant to the freedom to purchase cross-border services within the European Economic Area.
On June 18 last year, the Norwegian government published a draft of a new gambling act intended to replace three separate laws.
The new law provides the Norwegian Lotteries Authority with new tools for detecting, reacting to and sanctioning violations, including fines.
The bill’s preliminary date for consideration in parliament is March 1.