The trials and tribulations experienced in the Swedish gambling market have been well documented since re-regulation commenced almost two years ago, with further limits rolled-out regarding sports betting earlier this year in, what it is claimed is, an effort to curb match fixing.

Among these prohibitions are a ban on licenced incumbents permitting bets on “violations of rules during matches, competitions and tournaments (for example, expulsions, penalties and yellow cards),” as well as “individual achievements of players under 18 years of age”. It was noted however that the regulations only apply to sports that are practiced in Sweden.

At last week’s Betting on Sports Europe – Digital an expert panel convened as part of the ‘Betting around Europe’ track, to look at the progress, or lack thereof, in the country, as well as what effect these proposals would have for sports bettors and bookmakers.

The 40 minute discussion, titled Sweden – Limited Thinking, took many twists and turns, including looking at just how short-term the ‘temporary restrictions’ currently in place will actually be, with much scepticism expressed, as well as the level of reliance that operators can place in the hands of former state monopolies. 

To kick-things Victor Schultz, associate at Wiklund Law, and moderator for the session, offered an overview of recent developments: “In September of this year the Swedish Gambling Authority announced new regulations for sports betting, targeting match fixing within soccer and prohibiting betting on penalties and games in lower divisions,” he explained.

“This regulation is to come into effect on January 1, 2021, further, due to the pandemic, online casino operators have been hit with stricter requirements for player protection. While temporary in shape, the SGA is pushing to make some of these prohibitions permanent. 

I think we have a problematic market right now, we have previous monopolies dominating the market”

“That’s a position that will most likely be supported by the gambling market inquiry which is to present its finds in December of this year. 

“In addition to this, we have also seen decreasing numbers in channelisation on the Swedish licensed market during 2020, so, all-in-all I think these factors raise questions under the circumstances in which sports betting will be offered on the Swedish market in the upcoming year.

“For example, to what extent strict regulation relating to player protection will affect not only online casino operators, but also betting operators.”

What followed was a dissection of the market at present by each of Schultz’s fellow participants, dissecting current issues being experienced and identifying problems that they believe need to be addressed.

Asking for a general view on the current state of the market, as well as how it has coped with the pandemic, Maria McDonald, partner at Nordic Gambling, offered her perspective: “I think we have, from where we were two plus years ago when we anticipated the re-regulation and a very positive inquiry where the market would allow operators to get licensed and be a competitive market, to where we are today where I see operators either giving up their licenses or, indeed, withdrawing their licence applications, because they do not see the market as profitable or as positive as we were all initially hoping for.

“I think we have a problematic market right now, we have previous monopolies dominating the market, for whatever reason that may be, but we also have a black and grey market which is growing.

The one little thing I would add to this topic is that the communication with the regulators is being done in the courts”

“Both because it’s actually allowed to accept Swedish players as long as you don’t target the Swedish market, but also because we have operators who do not have a licence who offer their services in Swedish to Swedish people.

“But this leaves a smaller and smaller market share for privately licensed operators, and the tough enforcement from the SGA on various rules has contributed to fears from the industry of doing anything out of the ordinary, and it makes it harder to market and to acquire customers.”

Taking over the discussion, Thomas Vermeulen, affiliate and internationalisation manager at Smarkets, explained: “Everyone was happy back in 2019 when everything regulated because it meant more tax, more consumer protection, but if you fast forward things didn’t work out quite well.

“I mean, the government is being too restrictive, as has been said already, it’s harming channelisation and consumer protection and it mainly turns into a political game. 

“The restrictions mentioned, I think, are mainly implemented to appease voters, like the Swedish Football Association and also like government members, like the ATG has been driven and horseracing has been booming because horseracing was able to continue during the lockdown behind closed doors. Obviously a big part of that was the government stake in ATG

“I think, based on the latest numbers, many of the large Swedish gaming companies have lost around 30 per cent from June to August, so that’s basically the first effect from the deposit limits that was introduced back in July.

“And it’s just unfair in general, activities of state control or owned completely by the government are treated more leniently than private operators, and just one a side note, there’s also several political parties that are funded by lotteries. So, I think that plays a role as well.”

With Fintan Costello, managing director of BonusFinder, concurring with his fellow panellists before adding: “I won’t repeat everything, obviously I agree with everything Maria and Thomas have said. The one little thing I would add to this topic is that the communication with the regulators is being done in the courts; there’s very poor communication.

“So, if you’ve got companies that have put their hands up and gone through the licensing process and are willing to work with regulators, but they’re finding out that due to imprecise rules and requirements and getting hit with very very heavy fines, this isn’t conducive to a regulated market despite everybody’s best intentions.”