Sweden May Block Internet Gambling

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Sweden May Block Internet Gambling

April 4, 2009

The Nyren report was submitted to the Swedish government on the 15th of December 2008. The stated intention of this report was to propose “long term sustainable gaming regulations”. As required by Swedish protocol, the Ministry of Finance called for comments from the public and interest groups. The period for responding expired on the 1st of Aril 2009. One of the proposals in the report stated that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be required to block access to foreign gambling sites. It is this proposal that has met with condemnation from all sources.

The main Swedish ISPs such as Bahnhof have called the proposal a violation of the democratic rights. The ISPs voluntarily block undesirable sites such as those depicting child pornography, but even in that area there is no government directive. Even stronger sentiments have been expressed by Jon Karlung of the Svensha Dagbladet newspaper in his editorial in which he asks, “Is it really a good idea for the Swedish state to decide to what Internet destinations its citizens may have access?” Karlung points out that if this proposal is converted to law then it would be the first instance of state censorship in history of Sweden.

Government agencies, including the Swedish Post and Telecommunications Agency, the High Courts and the Agency for Administrative Development, have also voiced their criticism.  The argument is that when there is no law prohibiting players from wagering at foreign Internet gambling sites, then how can the government impose a block on these sites. The High Courts have been scathing in their responses. They point out that there are no similar practices in other areas of Internet use. Also they fear that if this is allowed then the government would be inclined to extend censorship in other areas as well.
The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) has been the most vociferous critic of the report. They have deplored Sweden’s record in the area of Internet gambling. They stress the fact that the Swedish gambling laws are already in violation of the European Union laws and these proposals would make things worse. Sigrid Ligne, EGBA Secretary General said, “We urge the [European] Commission to bring Sweden to the European Court of Justice.”

The only support voice came from the Social Democratic Party, which said that it favors the idea of a state filter on foreign Internet gambling sites. The Ministry of Finance has refrained from making any comment as yet, citing that the consultative phase has not been completed. But Finance Minister Anders Borg had earlier said that blocking Internet access may be going “...a little bit too far”. It needs to be pointed out that Australia has in fact implemented this kind of proposal and the backlash is immense.

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