Betting in Sweden

Gambling has a colourful history in Sweden. It can be traced all the way back to 1020. That’s when the kings of Sweden and Norway agreed to roll a pair of dice to determine which one of them would claim ownership of a certain disputed territory. The Swedish King allegedly won with a pair sixes, and gambling has been a popular pastime here ever since.

Today, all major types of wagering activities are legal in Sweden, from casino table games, slot machines, poker, bingo and lotteries to horse and greyhound racing and sports betting. Dotting the country are 31 licensed gambling venues, including two dog racing tracks, 25 horseracing courses and four casinos--one each in Gothenburg, Malmo, Stockholm and Sundsvall.

What has changed over time, however, is the way in which such activities are regulated. All forms of betting now fall under the authority of the government’s Lotteri Inspektionen. What’s more, for all intents and purposes, legal gambling has become a strictly controlled state monopoly.

Sports betting, for example, has been put in the hands of just two companies. AB Trav och Galopp (ATG) manages Sweden’s horse racing industry and is responsible for the Swedish Horse Racing Totalisator, while Svenska Spel has control of all other sports gambling.

Founded in 1997, the latter of the two is the largest gaming company in Sweden. It overseas the country’s lotteries, scratchcards, keno games, casinos and most forms of online gambling, in addition to fixed-odds sports wagering.

A handful of private companies have been granted permission to do business in the shadow of the two giants. Perhaps the best known is Unibet, established in 1997, which has made its mark internationally rather than battle Svenska Spel at every turn for domestic customers.

Now headquartered in London with Internet operations licensed in Malta, Unibet Group plc is listed on NASDAQ OMX Nordic Exchange in Stockholm. The Unibet Sports & Racebook started out focused on the Scandinavian markets, but it has grown to include thirteen online gaming sites with 440 employees serving 5.1 million customers in more than 150 countries.

At one point, international bookmakers seemed poised to break the Swedish government’s monopolization of betting. When exclusive online poker rights were given to Svenska Spel in 2006, Unibet pressed for an investigation into the Swedish poker monopoly by the European Commission (EC). A year later, Bwin Entertainment joined the petition and the EC ordered Sweden, along with France and Greece, to end their state-run sports betting monopolies.

Emboldened by this decision, another offshore bookmaker with online operations, Betsson Malta Ltd., decided to give the Swedish monopoly some direct competition. In 2008, they opened a land-based betting shop in Stockholm in order to “build closer relations with its players and offer more gaming opportunities and greater freedom of choice.”

In response, the Lotteri Inspektionen filed a police report claiming that Betsson’s shop violated article 38 in the Swedish lottery act. An objection was also filed to stop foreign bookmakers from advertising within Sweden.

By July 2010, the legitimacy of Sweden’s system of a sports betting monopoly ended up in the European Union Court of Justice (ECJ). In a surprise ruling, the ECJ sided with the Swedish government. The court found in favour of countries’ rights to ban online gambling being consistent with “community law,” although the ruling stopped short of allowing Sweden to impose what it termed “discriminatory penalties.”

Interpreting this ruling as a signal that they need fear no punishment, some 475 sports betting sites currently accept play from Sweden, including 34 sites that are offered exclusively in the Swedish language. The latter group is led by Unibet, of course, along with Ladbrokes, Bet365, Expekt, Gamebookers and Party Bets, to name just a few others.

The official currency of Sweden is the Krona, which a number of gaming sites accept, although the Euro is typically used at Sweden-facing sportsbooks. Visa credit for Sweden-based cardholders is accepted by some 2,163 gaming web sites, of which 356 offer Swedish language support. MasterCard has 2,066 affiliated venues, with 353 offering support in Swedish. Most eWallets, including Moneybookers and NETeller, also welcome transactions from customers based in Sweden.