The wait for Sweden’s new iGaming laws

swedisheuYou know that feeling you get when you start your journey through the labyrinth that is an IKEA mega store: this is going to take a lot longer than originally hoped ?

A similar feeling stirs on hearing the news that Sweden’s Minister for Public Administration, Ardalan Shekarab has announced plans to accelerate his country’s move to adopt new online gambling legislation.

Shekarab’s aim is to have new laws passed before Sweden’s general election in 2018, with milestones timetabled as follows:

  • Autumn 2015: Inquiry starts
  • Winter 2016/17: Report from the inquiry
  • Pre-summer 2017: Consideration to stakeholders and their reply
  • Autumn 2017: Proposal for new legislation to the Council on Legislation for consideration + EU notification
  • Dec. 2017: Government bill to the Parliament

Bingo… new laws in place by 2018 doing away with the Svenska Spel monopoly and appeasing the European Commission’s anger at Sweden’s anti-online gambling stance that is flouting the EU single market laws.

It’s a noble dream. It also makes economic sense. The idea that the currently legislated online gambling monopoly actually makes the government more money than an open market would is ludicrous.

Despite it’s monopoly status, Svenska Spel is thought to represent significantly less than half of the countries’ online gambling market. Unlicensed gaming companies, in breach of Sweden’s (probably) illegal net gambling laws are where most of the action’s at and their slice of the pie is growing. Confusing isn’t it?

The Secretary General of Sweden’s Association of Online Gambling Operators, Gustaf Hoffstedt described the situation nicely.

Sweden’s gambling legislation has traditionally been and still is very disconnected from the realities and demands of the market.”

But there is reluctance at the top to change.

Only months ago Shekarab himself said that the government had no immediate plans to end the Svenska Spel monopoly, even in the face of impending European Commission legal action.

They are well aware that the cogs of action in the EC turn very slowly indeed. Here’s a recent example of that.

On June 9th 2015, European Parliament member David Casa of Malta posed the below question to the European Commission.

“In a particular national gambling law that has been notified to the Commission it is being suggested that a remote gaming licence may only be provided to operators that have a land-based presence or intend to do so within a particular time-frame following the obtaining of such licence.

Can the Commission comment on the compatibility of this provision with the fundamental freedoms?”

Mr Casa received his answer from European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska  on 3 September 2015:

“Without prejudice to a specific assessment of any particular notified draft law, the Commission has concerns about the compatibility of national provisions subjecting the provision of online gambling services to establishing a physical presence in the recipient Member State and has been pursuing investigations into similar provisions to that described by the Honourable Member.

According to well-developed case-law of the Court of Justice of the EU, Member States may restrict the provision of gambling services within their territory. However, the restrictions must be compatible with the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. In particular, they must be non-discriminatory with respect to nationality and justified by overriding reasons in the public interest.”

If it takes the EC three months to answer a question, how long do you think it will take them to force a reluctant EU Member (eg Sweden) to change their laws?

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