Betting in Switzerland

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From 1921 onward, gambling was under a ban in Switzerland. Otherwise noted for its level-headedness in international affairs, the land-locked European nation maintained this prohibition until 1993, and it is only rather recently that major legal changes have come about, making the country more open to betting opportunities.

According to Article 106 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland, the gambling market is partitioned into two distinct sectors: games of chance (including casinos) on the one hand and the lottery and betting sector on the other. Regarding the first of these, the Federal Act on Games of Chance and Casinos (GCA) was enacted in 1998 and created the possibility of licensed and legal gaming activities.

At first, casinos operated with only limited-stakes games. It took another two years before permission was granted for unlimited-stakes casino games under the Federal Law on Games of Chance and Casinos. That’s when the industry really began to take off.

Today, there are 19 full-service casinos and eleven horse racing courses located around the country. No Swiss municipality has more than one of each type of gambling venue. Regulated by the Swiss Casino Commission, they offer a complete range of betting types, from slot machines and table games to card rooms and pari-mutuel wagering.

For example, the Grand Casino Bern in the nation’s capital features a 38,800-square-foot gaming space with 255 gaming machines and fifteen table/poker games. It is open from noon till 2am or 3am daily, and players must be at least 20 years of age. Even larger Grand Casino facilities can be found in Luzern and Basel.

Meanwhile, the Federal Act on Lotteries and Professional Betting of 1923 remained in force, making nationwide lotteries illegal. However, it did give the nation’s 26 Cantons a high degree of autonomy in establishing their own lottery and betting activities for the public good, under the supervision of a special division of the Federal Office for Justice.

As a result, two major lottery businesses have grown in Switzerland. Both of them support public service projects in the cultural, environmental, health, social and sports domains, while helping to finance local government research efforts.

Basel-based Swisslos, which offers Sport-Toto, was formed in 2003 as the merger of three preexisting lottery operators: Interkantonale Landeslotterie, Sport-Toto-Gesellschaft and SEVA Lotteriegenossenschaft. The other operator is the Société de la Loterie de la Suisse Romande (Loterie Romande), which has operated since 1937, providing lottery services for the Cantons of Vaud, Valais, Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Geneva and Jura.

Although prohibited from operating national lotteries, in 2004 the two organisations both joined Euromillions—the world’s biggest lottery with nine countries participating. Additionally, Swisslos also has added a bookmaking function, taking advantage of the rights of individual regions to permit limited betting on sporting events within their boundaries. And Loterie Romande now offers pari-mutuel betting on horse races in the French-speaking parts of the country.

Betting via the Internet has posed an entirely different set of concerns to the Swiss government. To date, it is still illegal to operate casino or sports betting web sites within the country, just as it is forbidden to advertise online gambling services in print, radio or television.

However, the government does not prevent online gamblers from playing at online casinos or sportsbooks that are domiciled offshore. Currently, some 469 sports betting sites accept play from Switzerland, including Paddy Power, Bet365, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Unibet, BetFred, Expekt and Party Bets, to name just a few.