Sweden's gambling regulator has hit back at claims that it is threatening the country's free press with its efforts to enforce a ban on gambling advertising in newspapers.
The Lotteriinspektionen has defended itself after being strongly criticised in an opinion piece co-written by Gustaf Hoffstedt, secretary general of Swedish gaming operator association Branschföreningen för Onlinespel (BOS) and Per Hultengård, chief legal officer of the Swedish Media Publishers' Association (TU).
The pair highlighted the importance of gambling advertising to Swedish print media, noting that around SEK1bn (€101.8m) in annual ad revenue is generated from gaming operators. This, Hoffstedt and Hultengård said, is around double the sum invested in print media by the state.
They noted that while the ban on promoting gambling services has been in place for years, it has proved a particular thorn in the side of the Lotteriinspektionen as it is widely believed to be unenforceable.
It is only now that progress towards re-regulating the market is being made that the regulator has moved to enforce the promotion ban, they added.
The effects of this action will go far beyond simply hitting newspapers' bottom lines, they concluded: "The gaming companies do not advertise due to altruism but for commercial reasons, though the consequence of their advertising is that editors can conduct independent journalistic work and thus preserve our democracy. The threat now directed against our free media is therefore also a threat to our democracy."
This followed the Lotteriinspektionen 'naming and shaming' newspaper publisher Metro in December last year for refusing to stop gambling ads. The regulator secured an injunction against the publisher, which would see it fined SEK250,000 should it continue to work with gambling advertisers.
The regulator's chairman, Per Håkansson, and director general Camilla Rosenberg, responded by stating that the level of unlicensed gambling advertising in Sweden is "remarkable".
"Respected media companies continue to violate Swedish law by selling advertising to gaming companies that are not authorized to conduct gaming activities in Sweden," they said. "Extensive advertising for such gaming companies takes place today on television, radio, billboards and newspapers as well as on many websites."
Håkansson and Rosenberg explained that they are required to enforce the ban under the current legislation in place, which states that players must be protected from being exposed to criminal behaviour and gambling addiction. As the legislation bans gambling advertising, this is in effect a crime, and as the advertiser is not regulated, there is no guarantee that they can protect players from developing addictions.
The enforcement efforts have also accelerated following a ruling by Sweden's Supreme Administrative Court in October 2017.
"A clear message was received from the court: advertising is prohibited for gambling products that are not licensed in Sweden," said Håkansson and Rosenberg. "Despite this verdict there has been no reduction in advertisements for foreign gambling sites."
And while the regulators accept that it is "high time" the country's gambling laws are modernised, they stress that the old laws must continue to apply.
They also dismissed the idea that the pending introduction of new legislation has changed anything for operators illegally advertising in Sweden. "In what other area or jurisdiction can an industry give itself the liberty of violating existing legislation with reference to new legislation that has not yet been decided by parliament?"
Sweden submitted proposed legislation for the re-regulation of its gambling market to the European Commission in December. The legislation is subject to an EC standstill period ending March 20th and is expected to come into force in January 2019.