Svenska Spel Sweden EGBA

The European Gaming and Betting Association is threatening legal action against state-owned Swedish gaming monopoly Svenska Spel

If Sweden wants to stay out of court, the Scandinavian country may have to make some significant changes to its gambling laws. That’s the word from the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), which has warned the nation that they’ll be facing a date in the European Court if they don’t change the policies that currently allow for a national gambling monopoly.

“Inaction will lead Sweden to the European Court,” said Maarten Haijer, secretary-general of the EGBA. According  to Haijer, the current situation in Sweden may well leave the European Commission with no other choice than to take the country to the European Court of Justice.

Go Directly to Court

The controversy over Swedish gaming laws has to do with Svenska Spel, the state-owned company that has held a monopoly over the online gaming market in Sweden since it was founded in 1997. In recent months, many throughout Europe – now including the EGBA – have come to the conclusion that such a monopoly is in conflict with European laws that dictate the free movement of services between EU nations.

“Evidently the best option for all concerned, and especially for Swedish consumers, is that Sweden will commit to re-regulate its market and allow online operators to apply for online licenses,” Haijer said in a recent media interview. “Sweden is one of the few member states that is not yet introducing such legislation, but with consumer demand steadily increasing, this is inevitably the future.

“If the status quo remains, it is clear that the European Commission will have no other option than to refer Sweden to the European Court,” he added.

Battle Over EU Laws

As Haijer pointed out, these accusations are nothing new. The European Commission made note of the restrictive laws in Sweden as early as 2006, and noted that the state-owned monopoly wasn’t likely to conform with EU laws. But the last few months have seen an increase in the level of pressure on Sweden to make changes in the near future.

Late last year, the European Commission asked Sweden to change its policies towards online gaming. That led many Swedish media outlets to report that the national monopoly was against European regulations. In early January, Svenska Spel Chairman Anitra Steen reacted strongly to those accusations, attacking Tidningsutgivarna – the trade association for Swedish newspapers and media organizations.

“There is no doubt that EU treaties…allow member states to maintain exclusive rights and monopoly in the gaming area,” Steen wrote. “Who[ever] is saying the opposite [is] spreading false information.”

Steen also suggested that Sweden’s media outlets were only reporting that the monopoly was illegal because they wanted more advertising money from foreign operations.

“The party is over for those seeking revenues from illegal gambling companies,” Steen said. “The company should inform the European Commission about the driving forces behind the rampant marketing campaign,” she added, referring to a marketing campaign targeting the Swedish monopoly.

Trade association CEO Per Hultengard quickly fired back.

“It is true that the European Union exceptionally allows its member states to restrict freedom of movement and services in the field of gaming,” he said. “But the restrictions have to satisfy certain objectives in a consistent and systematic manner.”

One of those objectives is limiting access to online gambling in general – something Haijer says Svenska Spel has no interest in doing.

“If the Swedish policy is not consistent, for instance due to its extensive marketing spending, then it doesn’t serve to limit consumers play,” Haijer said.

Svenska Spel has roundly dismissed these claims, but has not commented on the possibility of being taken to the European Court of Justice.