Carl Fredrik Stenstrøm: When the remedy becomes more important than the goal
Norwegian trade Association (NBO) General Secretary Carl Fredrik Stenstrøm explains how the champions of the Norwegian gaming monopoly appear to be more concerned with defending the model than maintaining the goal it was developed for almost 80 years ago; the protection of problem gamblers
The Norwegian gaming monopoly is based on a prerequisite that is almost impossible to disagree with; the alignment of the wish and freedom to gamble with the protection of the vulnerable. At the same time, a wide range of beneficiaries are always ready to defend one of their most important sources of income when needed.
This also characterises the public debate, epitomised in a recent editorial in one of Norway’s largest newspapers concluding that the gambling monopoly is good and should be maintained. This is without any support in facts that show that Norway has better control over the market, or fewer problem gamblers than our licence-regulated neighbouring countries. Such numbers do not exist – quite the opposite.
Instead, reference is made to stereotypical perceptions of the distinction between the state-owned company Norsk Tipping on the one hand and the “unregulated” operators on the other. Unfortunately, this is representative of the current national gambling debate where yesterday’s politics trump today’s reality in the online market.
Stands in the way of cooperation
The reason for the editorial was claims put forward by a Norwegian treatment organisation of a sharp increase in the number of enquiries from problem gamblers during the recent pandemic. Followed by speculation that the current living cost crisis will entail a continued increase at the expense of the impoverished.
The Norwegian Trade Association for Online Gambling (NBO) brings together several of the large non-Norwegian-regulated companies that were quickly and without reservation designated as the catalyst. NBO was also interviewed by the newspaper, without our answers being published. We emphasised the fact that there is no scientific basis for a claim that people will gamble more now that the prices of food, electricity and loans are increasing. If you look back at the pandemic years, you see that the increase has persisted over time. This did not, however, fit into the narrative.
Regardless of the cost, NBO has encouraged the industry to work together more closely to detect, prevent and treat problem gambling. We see that the most effective measures are those that actually manage to embrace the vast majority of players. And this is where the Norwegian monopoly falls short of the goal one really wants to achieve.
We see that the most effective measures are those that actually manage to embrace the vast majority of players. And this is where the Norwegian monopoly falls short of the goal one really wants to achieve
Gave up the monopoly, won back control
In Norway, approximately half of all online sports betting and casino games take place outside the monopoly. This means that no matter how good the state-owned company Norsk Tipping is in terms of responsible gambling – and they are good – there are a large number of players who are not encompassed by their measures.
This is not unique to Norway. A failing degree of channelisation is the main reason why firstly Denmark and then Sweden reregulated their domestic markets in favour of licence regimes. By channelling more turnover and play into a national regulation, you secure both the income and hit a far greater proportion of the players with shared responsibility measures.
Both of our neighbouring countries currently have a much higher degree of channelisation than in Norway. An evaluation carried out by the Swedish authorities shows that a reregulation has given them increased control over the market, and better conditions for achieving the goals in their national gambling policy – which are identical to the Norwegian goals.
Responsibility measures for the many, not the few
A key to the success in Sweden is precisely that former competitors can cooperate on joint responsibility measures that affect several people. In addition to having mandatory tools such as Spelpaus where players can block their access to all companies with a licence with a few clicks, we also see that traditional competitors within and outside the monopoly come together to increase the transparency of their work against problem gambling.
This is also highlighted as a success formula by organisations working to treat gambling problems. In a monopoly system that leaks, we don’t have the same tools. In addition, it can appear that there is a lack of will to contribute – as when Norsk Tipping refused to share data with independent research projects.
The evaluation from Sweden also reveals that the number of problem gamblers has levelled out after the introduction of a licensing system. Due to different methodology, it is not possible to compare these numbers directly across national borders. But the figures for Norway show that problem gambling continues to increase.
By channelling more turnover and play into a national regulation, you secure both the income and hit a far greater proportion of the players with shared responsibility measures
New facts about Finland
Or do we have to deal with the facts? “The gambling monopoly is good” seems to be a persistent argument, but those who remember will know that the current debate climate in Norway was quite similar in our neighbouring countries not so long ago. In Sweden, the Social Democrats, the sister party of the Norwegian Labor Party, changed their position because they saw that technological innovation and changes in consumer behaviour in the digital world were literally changing the rules of the game. The goal became more important than the remedy.
In Norway, Finland has been referred to as a last example of others also going against the tide. A few years ago, the Finns chose to consolidate all their gambling offers in the state-owned company Veikkaus, and tightened the legislation so that it would become more difficult to play with non-Finnish-regulated companies.
Nevertheless, the monopoly market shares continue to fall. In August, Veikkaus itself stated that the authorities should consider bringing all operators together under the same regulation if the trend could not be reversed, and recently the news came that there is now a political majority in Finland to prepare for a reregulation of the gaming monopoly in favour of a licence system.
How long will Norway continue to pave the way for a bad gaming policy with the monopoly’s good intentions?
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