On Sunday, voters in Switzerland overwhelmingly opted to back an online gambling law within the country. And while this will ensure that gamers within the country will be able to access various forms of gambling, it comes with a secondary move that will keep certain platforms out. The overhaul of the country’s gambling law also incorporates specific measures to counteract addiction. So, how does Switzerland intend to fight gambling addiction? By blocking foreign-based gambling platforms from having access to its citizens.
The final results of voting in the country show that 73% of Swiss residents approve the law that will block offshore platforms from providing gambling services. Despite the fact that the vote saw a low number of citizens giving their opinions on such, Switzerland looks ready to move forward with the banning of such sites.
Speaking of the change, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, said that voters in Switzerland prefer to keep the current policy in place, only allowing restricted gambling that does not include foreign-based online sites. Yet, when questioned on whether this move will also set some sort of precedent for the blocking of other foreign websites, Ms. Sommaruga gave a negative response.
The new law on gambling sites is set to come into effect at the beginning of 2019. With such, only gambling companies that hold a specific certificate from Switzerland will be able to provide their services there. This is a rule that extends to both online and offline operations.
A Defeat for the Opposition
While the voting results show a clear decision in favor of the Swiss laws banning foreign-based gambling sites, groups who were opposed to such a move claimed that the restrictions amount to “censorship of the internet”. These opposition groups managed to collect enough signatures to be able to challenge the regulations that the Swiss parliament approved in 2017. However, even though signatures were claimed, these groups also said that it was difficult to appeal to Switzerland’s public with an issue that is as specific as gambling.
On the other side of the coin, The Christian Democrats stepped forth with a campaign to back the law. According to Karl Vogler, the approval of this law stands as a “pragmatic decision”, made by Swiss voters who would like to continue the funding of civil society projects by using the revenue that casinos and lotteries provide.
Figures show that gamblers in Switzerland spend around 250 million francs ($254 million) on foreign gambling sites. These platforms do not provide any revenue for Switzerland, as they do not pay any in-country taxes. In addition to this, the company known as Addiction Switzerland, states that about 75,000 people suffer from gaming addiction within the country. Because the small nation has a population of about 8.3 million, this costs society about half a billion Swiss francs ($507 million) every year.
Should Other Countries Follow Suit?
The move by Switzerland to ban foreign-based gambling sites is a big change – one that has led to the question of if other nations should follow in its footsteps. For example, the United Kingdom is currently trying to tackle its own problems with gambling addiction. Even though the UK has a self-exclusion scheme in place, it has been failing on several levels already. The country has a very liberal gambling market, meaning that foreign-based online casinos, sportsbooks and more can provide their services to the UK market.
As it stands, many of the big name online gambling sites are based offshore, and a great deal of them have high standings in the UK, too. The income that UK players generate on foreign-based gambling platforms is very significant in keeping them afloat. If the UK did choose to alter its gambling laws in the same way as Switzerland, would it mean the closure of multiple online gambling sites? What’s more, can Switzerland really say that such a block on offshore platforms will help to curb the country’s gambling addiction problems?
Minimizing problem gambling is something that all countries should be aiming for, especially when it remains as a huge issue in so many locations. Whether or not the move by Switzerland will actually reduce this remains to be seen. If it does, then it certainly could lead to other countries opting to take the same route. But is internet censorship really the best method for tackling such problems? Concerns over whether or not governments will take it upon themselves to block other sites are fairly normal. If they can do it for foreign-based online gambling sites, why not for anything else? Only time will tell how this law change will affect Switzerland and the rest of the gambling world.