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Gambling in Norway is tightly regulated, and like Sweden, gambling in the country is restricted to being provided by government owned agencies, which in Norway consist of Norsk Ristoko, which offers betting on horse racing, and Norsk Tipping, which allows Norwegians to wager on a very limited number of other games such as Keno, scratch cars, and the lottery. (1)
Playing poker for money is currently not permitted in Norway, which includes both live and online poker and even makes private home games illegal. So right now there is no legal poker in Norway at all, however there is a bill that is before the legislature currently that is looking to relax the law and allow for home games to be played legally provided that they are not being run as a business. (2)
This bill, if passed and adopted, will also permit the hosting of live poker tournaments, where large events can be run with specific government permission, and smaller tournaments limited to no more than 10 players with a buy in of no more than NOK 1000 (approx. $130) will be allowed to be run without permission.
With real money poker being banned in Norway officially, you would think that poker would not be very big in this country, but in reality it’s actually very popular. In spite of live poker being illegal, there used to be several poker rooms and casinos scattered throughout the country at one time, but a crackdown in recent years by the police ended up putting an end to this.
So any live poker that does exist in Norway these days has been driven well underground. However, players have been playing online all this time in spite of it not being legal, although the Norwegian government isn’t exactly standing still in the face of this either.
Norway’s Anti Online Gambling Stance
Norwegians have been quite active in the online scene in spite of it not being legal to play in Norway, where all gambling must be done through the government owned operations, and they do not offer online poker at all. So if you play online poker in Norway you are breaking the law.
That doesn’t tend to serve to stop people from doing it generally, in Norway or anywhere else, and a lot of players tend to view laws like this as intrusions on their personal freedom, and a good case can be made for that, but in spite of that the law remains valid as long as it is in force.
Having a law against something and being able to enforce it can be two different matters though, especially when it comes to online gambling and online poker. There simply isn’t a way that this law can be enforced against individuals effectively.
Oddly enough though the Norwegian government requires you to report your winnings from online gambling on your income tax, so that might be one way they could catch you, although people generally don’t report income earned illegally on their taxes.
So governments, including Norway’s, are limited to acting on a bigger scale to try to curtail these activities. So in June 2010, Norway came up with their own version of the U.S.’s UIGEA, banning gambling related financial transactions and in particular banning Norwegian credit and debit cards from being used for these transactions. (3)
This of course served to slow things down but this just made it less convenient for players to deposit to gambling sites, and while this sort of thing does tend to slow down the action, as the experience in the U.S. has shown, there are workarounds for this and this certainly didn’t put an end to online gambling in Norway.
In this case the ban is on deposits from Norwegian financial institutions only, so as you might imagine, it isn’t that difficult to get around this for those who are willing to make the little extra effort that this requires.
Another tool that governments like to use here is to look to get internet providers to ban certain websites, and this is something that the Norwegian government has considered, but currently do not have any such restrictions in place. Should they end up doing this, once again this tends to slow down but not stop access to these online sites.
Norway is not a member of the EU, so they don’t have EU officials looking to sanction them for their monopolistic approach to gambling, as neighbor Sweden does for instance. They are a member of the European Free Trade Association though and the Association would like to see them loosen up things but has limited abilities to require this. (4)
The Future Of Poker In Norway
It’s certainly a step in the right direction that Norway at least looks like they will allow private games and small buy in real money poker tournaments, and that they ended up backing off on plans to block IP addresses.
This is still a very conservative country when it comes to gambling though, and they are certainly a long way from opening things up fully like you see in the U.K. for instance, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to gambling permissiveness.
Scandinavia in general tends to be more conservative toward opening up gambling, but as more and more countries permit regulated online poker, this may eventually turn the tide enough where this at least becomes more strongly considered.
This seems to be a ways off in Norway but seeing that Denmark is one of the countries that now have regulated poker, which were at one time in a similar situation with a government run monopoly on gambling but now has what some consider the best system of regulation around, might end up influencing them at some point.
Norwegian officials are particularly wary of the incidence of problem gambling though and this seems to be perhaps the biggest roadblock to progress here, but hopefully at some point they can come to realize that this will occur regardless and by regulating online poker this can actually provide them with more control over this then they currently have with players playing at offshore sites far from their sphere of influence.
So for now, Norwegians indeed continue to play on at these offshore sites and in spite of the government preferring they did not, there isn’t a lot that they can do to stop them. Once they understand this better than perhaps they can take advantage of the tax revenue opportunities that await them.