Sweden poker fans considering moving to online play are finding the transition much more difficult after the Swedish Gaming Board asked Apple to remove all gambling apps targeting its citizens.
The country currently has a state-run monopoly on both land-based and mobile gambling through its company Svenska Spel. Although Sweden’s decision to prohibit an open and competitive casino market has been deemed illegal by the European Commission, the Scandinavian country is taking additional steps to maintain its stronghold on the market.
After petitioning Apple to remove the apps from iTunes last week, PokerStars, Full Tilt, 888poker, partypoker, Bet365, William Hill, Betfair, Unibet, and other lesser-known operators were withdrawn from the country’s App Store on Monday.
The move is the latest in the long-troubled relationship between Sweden and the European Union’s executive body.
According to law set forth by the EU, member states cannot impose restrictions on the organization of online betting or online poker. Back in 2013, the Commission asked Sweden to take appropriate action to ensure compliance of the Union’s national online gambling laws. However, last October executive leaders say the country failed to react and take the necessary measures to satisfy its demands, ultimately referring the country to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
In the Commission’s statement of its decision, executive leaders said, “Changes to the Swedish gambling law in order to make it compliant with EU law have long been envisaged, but never implemented.”
EU law doesn’t prevent countries from closing its borders from outside companies, but should it do so the country “must demonstrate that the restrictive measures in question are suitable and necessary,” a footnote Sweden hasn’t properly demonstrated.
The failure to adapt has led to the initiation of legal action on behalf of the ECJ to force Sweden to loosen its regulations and end its gambling monopoly. But it appears the EU’s third-largest country by area isn’t intimidated. During a Swedish gaming conference in February, Minister for Public Administration Ardalan Shekarabi told the audience that there are no immediate plans to relax its regulatory position on online gambling, and opening the market isn’t on the government’s agenda.
Two Wrongs Make a Right?
Though Svenska Spel offers Internet casino games, bingo, and poker, other network operators are banned from marketing to Swedes. That of course didn’t stop the poker giants from trying to reach the country’s nearly 10 million residents. Similarly to in the US before Black Friday, PokerStars has been operating as a “bad actor” in the country, acquiring a 25 percent stake according to a survey performed by the Swedish government.
The infiltration by larger international betting sites has caused Svenska Spel’s revenues to drop, down some eight percent in 2014. With proper legislation and less restrictions on iGaming, Sweden’s ever-expanding market could flourish if given the proper chance.
Shekarabi also said during the conference that Sweden would consider lessening its restrictions if the country had the budget to do so. Creating an open market would certainly increase revenues, and could ultimately lead to the sufficient budget Shekarabi mentions. With more players competing in online poker than ever before, and the current home to WSOP Main Event champ Martin Jacobson, there might be no better time for the country to loosen its grip.