For decades, state-owned online poker operator Svenska Spel dominated the legal online poker scene in Sweden. Things have started to change in Sweden and Svenska Spel’s monopoly over the iGaming market in the country could soon be over. This is because new legislation is in the works and Sweden could end up opening its market to international operators in the near future.
Putting An End To Svenska Spel’s Monopoly
Svenska Spel has been the only regulated online gambling regulator in Sweden ever since it was established in 1997 by the merger of Penninglotteriet (The money lottery) and Tipstjänst (Tip service). Apart from online poker and gambling, its operations include lottery and bingo halls, which are conducted in pubs, restaurants, and by agents across the country.
Although most of the profits of Svenska Spel is paid directly to the Public Treasury, the European Commission did not find it satisfactory that only one state-owned company was legally permitted to offer gambling services to the Swedes.
In 2013, the EU Commission finally launched formal infringement proceedings against Sweden for failing to comply with the Treaty for European Union (TFEU), which stipulates that the EU member countries should let the EU provide a common market for goods and services. In terms of online poker, this means that Sweden, as an EU member country, should allow any company from another member state to offer their services to the Swedes. It also explicitly specifies that the Swedes should be free to choose any service provider from any of the EU members, and not just be compelled to use the Swedish Svenska Spel.
The court referral notice by the EU Commission also specified that on top of these blatant violations of the TFEU, they found that the Svenska Spel and the Swedish authorities were not effectively preventing problem gambling and criminal activities because of the lack of state control.
International Providers Operate Under The Radar
Although Svenska Spel was the only authorized provided by the Swedish government, it did not stop other international operators from operating under the radar and providing online gaming services to the Swedes. International brands like PokerStars, 888, partypoker and Unibet have all offered iGaming services at one time or the other even though they did not have a legal license to do so.
The services provided by these international operators were very popular with the Swedes. A research consultancy known as Sifo Advertising Measurements found in 2017 that that Unibet was spending more than Svenska Spel to advertise its gambling offerings.
The government did not come down hard on these foreign operators because they had a right to operate in the country under the TFEU. Because of the pressure from the EU, Sweden finally yielded and in 2015, started a review of its gambling sector and regulations. By 2017, the Swedish government finally completed the review and recommended the ending of Svenska Spel’s monopoly.
Sweden Now Open To International Operators
Shortly after the review was released, the Swedish government adopted the bill “A re-regulated gambling market.” The new bill will finally open Sweden’s doors to international operators, set up a brand new licensing system, and overhaul its current gambling act.
According to the new gambling act, all operators who want to offer their products to the Swedish people will have to apply for a license or risk being closed by the government. On top of the licensing fees, an 18 percent tax will be imposed on all gambling subject to licensing. Non-profit operators like those owned by the state will continue to be exempt from the 18-percent tax.
The Swedish Gambling Authority (SGA) will also be given the power to shut down any unlicensed website and implement strict regulations in moderating gambling marketing. To protect the Swedish players, features must be put in place to allow gamblers to bar themselves from accessing gambling websites.
Svenska Spel has since changed its leadership and the new CEO Lennart Käll is welcoming the changes to the Swedish gambling landscape. The new gaming regulations will come into force come January 1, 2019. However, as early as August 1 this year, international operators who are interested to apply for a license.
In a statement, Käll said, “This is a reform that creates order and reforms a market. Now we can look forward to a gaming market with equal conditions for gaming companies, increased revenue to the treasury, clear rules to protect customers from excessive gaming and opportunities to put match fixers behind lock and bar, and above all much stronger and better consumer protection.”

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