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Swedes fear government may follow Finland’s lead

25th November 2011 9:56 am GMT

The Swedish Ministry of Finance disappointed an expectant audience at the Lotteriinspektionen (Swedish Gaming Board) annual meeting yesterday (November 24).

Given the broad consensus among Sweden’s political parties that the illegal gambling market needs to be regulated, many were expecting very big things when Johanna Lybeck Lilja, the State Secretary to Minister for Financial Markets Peter Norman (the man at the ministry of finance with responsibility for gambling), rose to speak.

Her first words were an apology that she was going to reveal very little today. Disappointment followed by an apology has become something of a speciality at the Ministry.

It was only two months ago the Ministry told Gaming Intelligence that a new Gaming Act had been proposed, only for it to transpire that the “new” Gaming Act was actually an Act, which had been proposed (but not enacted) in 2008. Er, not that new then.

“I am sorry about that,” said a Ministry spokesperson.

But Lybeck Lilja did tell us something new. Apparently a massive 2 per cent of the Swedish population is addicted to gambling and this is the industry’s most pressing problem. Some listeners questioned where she got that figure.

She spent so long talking about consumer protection, an issue that the industry (regulated and unregulated) is fairly unanimously in support of, that some observers fear the Ministry will shortly propose a crackdown rather than liberalisation.

Gustaf Hoffstedt, an MP from the government’s Moderate Party, has been lobbying for liberalisation for nearly two years. He told me the government is looking at both the Danish model and Finland’s protectionist approach.

He hopes it will go down the Danish route but fears it will opt for the Finnish way.

On the rostrum Lybeck Lilja said that Sweden cannot copy another country, a statement that dismayed those hoping for Danish-style legislation.

One pessimistic attendee I spoke to was so disappointed by her stance he presumed the Minister of Finance Anders Borg has set out his stall against liberalisation. Borg is understood to have a fervent dislike of the pastime.

It is believed that it was Borg’s words of hellfire and damnation that provoked one of Svenska Spel’s CEOs to resign. After all, it must be hard to run a business when your boss considers your business to be the work of the devil.

Despite all of Sweden’s political parties being firmly in favour of regulating the gambling market. Borg is a hugely popular Minister and ultimately he will decide whether this market is liberalised.

Our pessimist predicted a “gambling war” in Sweden: “For Unibet, Betsson and every other gaming company that considers Sweden to be its home market, the message is quite clear. We don’t want you here.”

His dramatic conclusions were not shared by Hoffstedt who told me: “I am still optimistic. But we need to present something soon.”

He promised not to give up but he sounded weary. We might have to wait for Borg’s departure for much progress. And that will not happen before 2014.

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Continuing the theme, the Brits are at it too it seems. Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe said the UK will most likely follow France’s lead and introduce sports rights in three or four years. He did not make it clear on his reasons for choosing this time frame. Does he hope to be back in power by then?

But when he was in power, Sutcliffe did nothing to advance this cause despite having three whole years to do something about it. In fact, he habitually assured the industry in private that he would oppose any calls for sports rights.

Of course now he’s in opposition he can throw a bone to the sporting lobby without having to do anything about it. And if he can throw the government into (another) funk by raising such a thorny issue then he will have done a good job for his party too.

Aaaah, politics.... it’s fun to watch but I wouldn’t want to base a business plan on it.

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