The Swedish government enjoys a monopoly on all gambling in Sweden, including online gambling, through it’s state owned Svenska Spel operation. Svenska Spel also offers online poker to Swedes, and it’s a site of moderate traffic, currently sitting in 16th place in terms of overall traffic in the world rankings. (1)
So this site certainly is a going concern and a lot of Swedes play on it, and ironically enough, one of the reasons why the Swedish government insists on maintaining a monopoly on gambling in the country is to control problem gambling, but even they admit that this hasn’t been all that successful as there are a lot of problem gamblers that do so though their Svenska Spel operation, including their poker site.
What the Swedish gambling laws really amount to is that no one other than Svenska Spel is permitted to operate gambling in Sweden, so this really pertains to operators and not players. There are several large Swedish online gambling operations such as Betsson and Unibet but they have had to locate their operations offshore, although they continue to covet Swedish players as well as those from other countries. (2)
In fact a lot of Swedish online poker players play at sites other than Svenska Spel, who are left to resort to tactics such as telling players it’s more fun to play on a site that is more safe and they suggest that it’s safer to play on their site than others. It’s not made clear why they are safer though but they are hoping players will agree.
There is considerable pressure both from within the country and especially from the European Commission for Sweden to loosen up its tight restriction and allow for licenses to be granted to other operators in the country. The European Commission is eager to get this matter resolved to their satisfaction and while Swedish officials have sought to delay the process this is something we will see very soon or they will certainly face sanctions. (3)
It’s been over seven years now since the EU has been trying to pressure Sweden into changing its gambling laws, and in particular, getting rid of the monopoly that they now enforce, and their patience is running out.
The European Commission is now in the midst of suing the Swedish government over this as Sweden, as a member of the European Union, is subject to its rules and it is held by the Commission that their restrictive gambling laws are in violation, where it recognizes that a country may apply restrictions on gambling but must be done so systematically and fairly, and the monopoly that the Swedish government is exercising is not seen as being in compliance. (4)
The Swedish Online Poker Scene
Opening up the Swedish market may be meaningful for operators but it really won’t affect access for Swedish online poker players. It’s already legal for them to play on any site that is licensed in the European Union, which is a lot of sites, and there’s no real way to effectively police this anyway.
So Swedish players have always played wherever they want pretty much and especially on Poker Stars, long before they were EU licensed, but they are these days so that really doesn’t matter.
The Swedish government of course prefers its players to play on their own site, Svenska Spel, but they admit that their monopoly on operators in Sweden is of no real effect in requiring its players to play exclusively on it.
In theory anyway, opening up the Swedish market for licensure would probably be bad for players and good for Swedish authorities, who would then be in a better position to look to cordon off the market and collect more of its share in tax revenues. Players are supposed to declare all their winnings as income but it’s pretty much on the honor system outside of Svenska Spel of course, and if the government owns the site well there’s nowhere to hide really.
So this licensure and regulation may come with a bigger stick as far as getting players to comply with the new rules, and that’s extremely likely in fact, for instance making it illegal for Swedes to play elsewhere, and even though this doesn’t tend to stop a lot of players due to the extreme difficulty in enforcing it, it still has an effect as a scare tactic at least.
As has been the case in other countries though, simply ring-fencing regulated poker sites within a country does not mean that players will just play at those sites, and looking at the experiences of countries that have done this, almost half of a country’s poker players will still play on offshore unregulated sites, out of reach of their country’s tax man.
The biggest reason for this is the way these schemes are set up, as confining the poker operations in a country to residents of the country and not allowing them to play against players in other countries may be convenient for taxation purposes but this certainly isn’t that appealing to players, and the people who make these decisions do not realize how much of an issue this really is.
It’s hard to say what scheme Sweden will go with once it finally starts licensing poker rooms, which will happen sooner rather than later, but hopefully they have the wisdom to allow for players to play at the main sites like Denmark has done and the U.K. is doing, rather than making the mistake that France, Italy, and Spain have made with their ring fenced traffic and the fairly high non compliance that has come with it.
In the mean time Swedish players continue to play wherever they want, whether that be on the official poker site of their country, Svenska Spel, or on other popular poker sites.
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