Contributed By Westerberg & Partners
Four years have now passed since the re-regulation of the Swedish gambling market in 1 January 2019 and the most obvious and immediate issues related to the Swedish Gambling Act that entered into force on that date have since been addressed by the Swedish Gambling Authority (SGA). However, the Swedish gambling market still faces many unsolved regulatory issues and the next couple of years will be important in maintaining a continued channelling of customers to licensed operators and improving the damaged reputation of gambling operators among the Swedish public.
On this point, it is notable that there has been a shift in parliamentary power following the general election in September 2022 and that a new multiparty government has been appointed for the next four years. On 23 November 2022 the new members of Parliament adopted a number of amendments to the Gambling Act, including the implementation of B2B licences from 1 July 2023 and new remedies by which the SGA can target unlicensed operators.
Naturally, the recently adopted amendments to the Gambling Act and the shift of power are the most current topics in the gambling sector. The content of the pending bill is addressed in the separate sections that follow.
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government in power at the time swiftly implemented temporary restrictions on gambling, which included restrictions on weekly deposit limits, losses, login times, and the value of first-time bonuses. Upon two extensions of the regulation, the restrictions were lifted on 14 November 2021.
Owing to the continuous high spread of infection in early 2022, an additional proposition concerning temporary restrictions on online gambling was presented in January 2022. The new restrictions were set to be implemented on 7 February 2022. However, following referrals within the sector, the proposal was withdrawn on 27 January 2022. Hence there are no current restrictions on gambling that are due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the past few years is a testament to how swiftly new gambling restrictions may be adopted if deemed necessary. It remains to be seen whether the newly appointed government will take the same approach if the spread of infection increases again.
Social games without any bets or winnings/prizes do not require a licence.
The Swedish government has an exclusive right to offer full-scale land-based casino services. State-owned enterprise Svenska Spel currently operates such traditional land-based casinos in Sweden (Casino Cosmopol). In the competitive market, a licence for land-based gambling may under certain conditions be obtained for betting, casino games that are not held in casinos, and goods gambling machines. Non-profit entities may obtain licences for land-based bingo and lotteries.
The two key legislative acts governing the Swedish gambling market are the Swedish Gambling Act (2018:1138) and the Swedish Gambling Ordinance (2018:1467).
In addition, the following legal legislation should be mentioned:
Within its mandate, the SGA has also issued several binding regulations concerning match fixing, money laundering, etc, which could be found on the regulator’s official website.
The Swedish Gambling Act applies to all gambling involving money and prizes of monetary value. As such, gambling is defined in Chapter 2, Section 1 of the Gambling Act as “lotteries, betting, combination games and pyramid games”. Said concepts are in turn defined as follows.
According to the legislative bill of the Gambling Act, land-based gambling is defined as games between a player and a gambling operator that take place in a physical meeting.
According to Chapter 2, Section 1 of the Gambling Act, online gambling is defined as any form of gambling provided through electronic means of communication and played by a player or multiple players and the party that provides the gambling.
According to Chapter 19, Section 1 of the Gambling Act, a party that intentionally or through gross negligence provides unauthorised gambling or gambling without a licence shall be fined or imprisoned for a maximum of two years for unlawful gambling operations (unlawful gambling). According to Chapter 19, Section 2 of the Gambling Act, those who intentionally or through gross negligence aid and abet participation in such unlawful gambling shall be fined or imprisoned for a maximum of two years (promotion of unlawful gambling).
For both crimes, there will not be any sentencing for minor infractions.
According to Chapter 19, Section 4 of the Gambling Act, those who take inappropriate actions to manipulate the outcome of a game that is subject to licence requirements under the Gambling Act shall be imprisoned for a maximum of two years (cheating).
Unlawful gambling, aiding and abetting of unlawful gambling and cheating is punishable with fines or imprisonment for up to two years. If severe, sentences up to six years’ imprisonment could be ordered.
When assessing whether a case of cheating is serious, particular attention shall be paid to whether or not the offence was committed as part of a crime that is:
With effect on 1 January 2023, the SGA will be mandated to issue an injunction against aiding and abetting participation in illegal gambling or services from unlicensed operators – for example, a software developer who outsources the back-end operations to unlicensed operators. Under the present legislation, aiding and abetting has only been regulated by a criminal sanctions statute and the SGA has therefore been restricted to reporting such aiding and abetting activities to the police.
The SGA is the authority appointed to grant gambling licences and acts as the regulator in relation to compliance with the Gambling Act, the Gambling Ordinance and the regulations issued by the SGA. As regards marketing of gambling services, the Swedish Consumer Agency conducts separate supervision and the Swedish Tax Agency is the supervising authority when it comes to payment of the relevant taxes.
The Gambling Act is drafted as a framework regulation. In turn, the Gambling Act mandates the SGA to issue regulations on matters including responsible gambling requirements, annual fees, technical requirements, and which specific games should be covered by the different licence categories.
The SGA’s supervision only covers gambling provided in Sweden or gambling directed towards the Swedish market. Online gambling services that are not directed towards the Swedish market are not therefore considered to be provided in Sweden for the purposes of the Gambling Act.
The assessment of whether gambling services are directed towards the Swedish market should be made by way of an overall assessment. According to the legislative bill, it should particularly be factored in whether, for example, a website includes Swedish language and/or accepts bets and pay-outs in Swedish currency. The SGA has also provided additional guidance on which circumstances indicate that the services are directed towards the Swedish market. These include:
From 1 January 2023, existing licences will be valid during the processing of renewal applications, as long as such applications are filed at least four months prior to expiry.
For state-owned entities, a licence may be granted to provide casino games at a casino, games on slot machines, certain lotteries, online bingo, computer-simulated gambling machines, local pool betting, and cash and goods gambling machines.
For entities that provide gambling for the benefit of the public good, a licence may be granted for land-based bingo, certain lotteries, and pool betting at horse-racing tracks.
Licences for cash and token gambling machines and casino games that do not take place online or a casino may be granted for vessels in international traffic.
Licences for commercial online gambling cover online casino games, online bingo and computer-simulated gambling machines.
Licences for commercial land-based and online betting cover sports betting, betting on future events, and the outcome of lotteries (provided that consent is given from the provider of the lottery).
Licences for land-based commercial gambling may be granted for:
There is no cap when it comes to the number of licences that can be granted to operators in the competitive parts of the Swedish gambling market.
However, as outlined in 4.4 Types of Licences, certain licences are only available to state-owned companies or charities/non-profit entities.
Licences can be issued for a period of five years at a time. However, on several occasions the SGA has granted shorter licences on the basis of an applicant's negative financial equity, for example, or previous regulatory violations in other jurisdictions.
The key requirements for applying to obtain a Swedish gambling licence are:
The key application documents are essentially the same for all licence types. A licence application must include a form filled in by all management and board members involved in the applicant entity ‒ as well as all “qualified owners” (ie, those with ownership or indirect ownership of at least 10% of the shares or voting rights in the applicant entity), including any ultimate beneficial owners that hold qualified ownership.
The following documents for each such individual, translated into Swedish, must be enclosed with the application:
For all legal entities with a direct or indirect ownership of a least 10% (shares or voting rights) in the applicant entity, the following documents must be submitted:
A complete application is normally processed within two or three months.
The following application fees apply to the licences available to commercial (ie, non state-owned) operators in Sweden:
The following annual fees apply to the licences available to commercial (ie, not state-owned) operators in Sweden:
The annual fees for commercial online gambling licences are based on the operator’s expected annual turnover as follows:
As set out in 4.4 Types of Licences, licences for full-scale land-based casino operations are exclusively reserved for stated-owned businesses and only four such casinos are allowed. Charities/non-profit entities may also obtain licences for land-based bingo, lotteries and pool betting at horse racing tracks.
As regards commercial operators, licences for certain land-based casino games may be granted to:
The licensing requirements correspond to the general requirements for gambling operations, see 4.7 Application Requirements.
There have not been any recent changes in the land-based gambling sector, nor are any changes to this sector anticipated in the near future.
As set out in 4.4 Types of Licences, commercial operators may apply for commercial online gambling licences and commercial online and land-based licences (ie, online B2C licences). Such licences are required for in order to provide any services to the Swedish market, even if the service provider is based in a foreign jurisdiction.
From 1 July 2023, B2B licences will be mandatory in Sweden. In the meantime, licence holders that use gambling software suppliers must provide proof of technical certification for such operators to the SGA when applying for a licence to operate in Sweden.
Affiliates to licence holders are considered unlicensed operators and are subject to the same restrictions under the Gambling Act as other unlicensed service providers – that is, they are unauthorised to market or provide gambling services to the Swedish market.
A licence holder may under certain conditions contract an affiliate (or a non-associated entity) to carry out operative work or functions in its business operations, provided that the licence holder remains responsible for the services in relation to its customers.
Except for certain gambling services (eg, casino business and slot machines), a joint licence may be sought together with another service provider that is authorised to provide gambling services within the EEA.
White-label arrangements are accepted and will require the entity providing the white-label product to apply for a gambling licence.
On 23 November 2022, the newly appointed Parliament adopted a bill making B2B licences a mandatory requirement for providing gambling software in the Swedish market from 1 July 2023.
Under certain circumstances, the SGA may order an ISP to include a clearly visible warning notice on websites that provide gambling services without holding a licence. Such notice may include a caution that the services are unlicensed and unsupervised and that all winnings are subject to Swedish tax.
The SGA may also request that an administrative court issues a blocking payment order to unlicensed operators. Such order should be issued if it can be assumed that an account will be used to forward deposits or payouts from unlicensed gambling operations.
Under the Swedish Gambling Act, all licence holders are subject to responsible gambling (RG) requirements. This includes a general “duty of care” to:
All licence holders must adopt an action plan for how the duty of care obligation will be complied with.
The duty of care obligation includes responsibility for monitoring all customers and, in the event of excessive gambling, licence holders may need to apply restrictions and limitations ‒ for example, by contacting the customer and/or limiting deposit limits and/or gambling time ‒ or, ultimately, suspend the customer. According to research in preparation for the Gambling Act, both feedback and restrictions should be applied at an early stage and before the gambling has caused any negative harm.
The central RG requirements of the Gambling Act are as follows:
Moreover, the SGA has provided a guide featuring examples of how signs of excessive gambling can be identified, and which individualised measures the SGA expects licence holders to take when customers show signs of excessive gambling. Factors to consider in this regard are:
The recently adopted amendments to the Gambling Act include an exemption from the current bonus restriction – ie, bonuses may only be offered at the first gambling event with the licence holder ‒ for those licence holders that exclusively provide gambling services for the public good.
The following gambling management tools must be applied to ensure compliance with the duty of care requirement under the Gambling Act.
Upon registration and login, all licence holders must verify that the customer has not registered with the Swedish self-exclusion register Spelpaus. The time periods for self-exclusion may range from 24 hours to indefinitely. An indefinite self-exclusion may not be revoked before 12 months has passed.
All gambling operations in Sweden are subject to the restrictions in the Act on Measures Against Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism. Under its mandate, the SGA has also issued binding regulations on AML measures in SIFS 2019:2 and published guidance on how licence holders should work to counteract money laundering and terror financing.
In short, the following safety measures should be conducted:
If the licence holder is part of a corporate group, there are special provisions on group-wide procedures that include a requirement for parent companies to establish procedures that apply to the entire group.
To the best of the authors' knowledge, there are no recent or forthcoming changes to Swedish AML legislation that are relevant to gambling operators.
Upon registration with the licence holder, an initial customer due diligence must be carried out. Such due diligence should also be conducted in the following situations:
All licence holders must implement a risk-based assessment of its customers with regard to money laundering and terrorist financing. Such general risk assessment will result in a “high”, “normal” or “low” risk category for each customer, which will be monitored and possibly changed from time to time. The risk assessment should be used as a key component of the AML work and must include an assessment of how the licence holder’s products and services could be used to launder money or finance terrorism. In this regard, the SGA has provided the following guidance on risk factors.
All licence holders must adopt routines to counter money laundering and terrorist financing, which should complement the general risk assessment. The routines shall include the following main duties:
The SGA and the Swedish Consumer Agency conducts supervision of the marketing of gambling services on the Swedish market. In brief, the SGA supervises marketing issues that relate directly to gambling operations such as bonus campaigns, etc. The Consumer Agency supervises the compliance with general marketing restrictions for gambling services ‒ for example, the requirement of moderate marketing of gambling services.
The Swedish Public Prosecutor’s Office enforces criminal matters.
Under the Swedish Marketing Act, the concept of marketing is defined as “advertising and other business activities intended to promote the sale of and access to products, including a trader’s act, omission or other measure or conduct before, during or after the sale or delivery of products to consumers or traders”. In case law, the concept of advertising has been given an extensive interpretation.
The key legal provisions governing advertisement of gambling products and services are set out in the Swedish Marketing Act and in Chapter 15 of the Swedish Gambling Act.
Under the Swedish Gambling Act, all marketing of gambling services must be “moderate” (måttfullhet). In essence, this means that advertisements for gambling services must be designed with additional caution and should not come across as aggressive or overly outreaching. In particular, advertisements may not insinuate that certain games are free if they require a bet or that they are risk free, etc.
At the time of writing (November 2022), there is no case law from the appellate courts on the issue of moderate gambling marketing and the few first instance court judgments include somewhat conflicting statements as to how the assessment should be carried out in practice.
In addition to the moderation requirement, the following specific regulatory restrictions on advertising of gambling services apply.
In minor matters within its mandated field, the Swedish Consumer Agency may issue injunctions on penalty of a fine to cease certain marketing activities. In cases of more significance, the Agency will instead seek such injunctions before the Patent and Market Court and Patent and Market Court of Appeal. The Agency may also request that the courts issue a marketing fine.
Within its separate parallel field, the SGA may order that the licence conditions be amended and issue:
In exceptionally severe cases, the SGA may also revoke gambling licences with immediate effect. It is possible to appeal such decisions and, where relevant, request for a stay of execution to suspend the immediate effect.
The authors are not aware of any recent or forthcoming changes in this jurisdiction.
All entities and individuals that directly or indirectly hold 10% or more of the shares or voting rights in a licence holder are subject to approval from the SGA and need to provide documentation on its board members and management personnel, along with corporate and financial documentation.
Any changes to the direct or indirect ownership of a licence holder or the key personnel mentioned in 10.1 Disclosure Requirements must be reported to the SGA within 14 days of the decision that will trigger the change. To process such notifications, a fee of SEK800 must be paid to the SGA.
As described in 10.1 Disclosure Requirements, indirect owners of the licence holder (ie, those with 10% or more of the shares or voting rights) are also subject to disclosure requirements.
The SGA has a mandate to enforce the restrictions on gambling set forth in the Swedish gambling regulations and the Act on Measures Against Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. The enforcement is carried out under administrative law. The SGA’s decisions can be appealed to the Administrative Court of Linköping. If leave to appeal is granted, such judgments may be appealed to the Administrative Court of Appeal in Jönköping and then subsequently to the Supreme Administrative Court. Except for certain cases, the legal effect of the SGA’s decisions is suspended until it has become final – that is, upon the expiry of the appeal deadline or when all appeal possibilities have been exhausted.
Depending on the severity of the violation of the Gambling Act or the applicable licence obligations, the SGA has a mandate to:
If a licence holder fails to provide any information that it is obligated to provide under the Gambling Act, the SGA may issue a delayed payment fine of maximum SEK100,000.
The SGA may refrain from ordering a sanction if:
The powers of enforcement vested with the Swedish Consumer Agency are regulated under administrative law. However, the Agency’s decisions are appealed to the Patent and Market Court and Patent and Market Court of Appeal, and such cases are normally administered under the Swedish Code of Civil Procedure.
In cases involving criminal offences, the Swedish Public Prosecutor’s Office is the appointed enforcement authority. Such enforcement is conducted under general criminal procedural law, which vests the prosecutor with more invasive remedies in comparison with the administrative remedies available to the SGA and the Swedish Consumer Agency.
During the first few years following the re-regulation of the Swedish gambling market, the SGA has focused particularly on violations of the bonus restriction and the ban on providing betting on matches where the majority of participants are under the age of 18. It has issued several warnings, combined with sanction fees, in relation to such violations.
Moreover, during this period, the SGA has revoked gambling licences as a result of insufficient RG and AML measures, in addition to violations of the bonus restriction. Licences have also been revoked by the SGA in response to operators’ passivity in launching their business following the grant of the licence. The SGA has also issued injunctions against 31 foreign unlicensed operators that have targeted their gambling services at the Swedish market.
The Swedish Consumer Agency has not been particularly active in the field of gambling since 2019 but has enforced two matters concerning the moderate marketing requirement. The Patent and Market Court issued injunctions on penalty of fine in both cases, neither of which were appealed to the appellate court.
As mentioned in 11.2 Sanctions, the SGA may issue sanction fees and delayed payment fines. Although the range of the sanction fee is set by the Gambling Act (SEK5,000 to 10% of the annual GGR), the issue of how the size of the sanction fee should be determined within that range and which factors should be considered is currently pending before the Supreme Administrative Court. The highest issued sanction fee during the first three years since the re-regulation of the gambling market amounted to SEK100 million.
Technically, an individual holding a gambling licence may become subject to financial penalties.
Social gaming is not encompassed by the Swedish Gambling Act.
A licence for betting services is required in order to offer betting on esports.
According to the legislative bill, fantasy sports generally qualify as betting and require a licence. In a recent decision concerning an online football manager game involving prizes, the SGA held that the arrangement of such game was considered provision of betting services within the meaning of the Gambling Act and therefore requires a licence. No sanction was issued, and the decision was thus not appealable.
The Gambling Act does not encompass games of skill ‒ that is, games where the result is entirely or almost entirely decided by skill (unlike combination games, which require a licence) ‒ and therefore they are not subject to any licence requirements.
Under the Payment Services Act, licence holders may only accept deposits and issue payouts from payment service providers. Hence, blockchain/cryptocurrency payments are not allowed.
Gambling services are subject to a tax rate of 18% of the monthly profit. The profit amounts to the difference between the total bets minus the total payouts. Only bets and payouts that concern the Swedish market should be included.
Players’ gambling winnings from licensed operators are tax-free in Sweden. Conversely, winnings that stem from unlicensed operators are subject to tax.
To the best of the authors’ knowledge, there are no recent or forthcoming changes to Swedish tax legislation in relation to gambling services.