A short guide to betting in the Scandinavian countries
Betting, primarily sports betting, is one of the most popular entertainment activities worldwide. Most people would not consider the Scandinavian countries (which this piece defines as Norway, Sweden and Denmark) to be betting hotspots. However, the betting markets in these countries are significant.
All three of them have been characterized in recent decades as having relatively closed betting markets, allowing domestic monopolies to operate without competition from outside firms. Since European Union (EU) treaties have begun to protect more cross-border economic activities, protecting a market from foreign competition can run into legal challenges.
The European Union is supposed to function as a single economy, with goods, services, capital and labor flowing freely across national borders. The cross-border movement of gambling services is a sticky issue. While it is officially protected by Article 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, member states have the freedom to make their own rules in the name of public interest, and if those rules are applied consistently and fairly.
Sweden and Denmark are both members of the EU and have been challenged for violating article 56, and the European Commission (EC) has given requests to both countries that they change laws to allow more competition. Critics have said that their regulations were unfair and not in the public interest.
Meatballs, Volvo and licensed, state-owned betting
• Denmark’s state-owned Dansk Spil has a monopoly on betting shops but the country’s online betting market is relatively open
• Norway only has two firms licensed to accept bets, both state-owned
• Foreign bookmakers are not legal to operate in Sweden but the state has not attempted to penalize them
While online casinos in Sweden are illegal, betting is legal and subject to a regulated licensing system in Sweden. The state-owned firms Svenska Spel and ATG form a duopoly in the betting market, holding special status in both land-based betting shops and online betting. Svenksa Spel specializes in sports betting while offering poker and bingo as well. ATG provides horseracing services to bettors.
The Swedish-listed private firm Betsson also offers online betting but is subject to heavier regulation. It offers both online services and brick-and-mortar betting shops. Executives have asked the government to change gambling laws to level the playing field with Svenska Spel and ATG to allow them to advertise freely.
While the market is heavily regulated, several foreign-operated bookmakers accept bets from the country. The UK online bookie Bet365 does a lot of business in the Swedish market. These bookmakers are not licensed in Sweden but in accordance with the wishes of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) the state does not penalize them. Others operating this way include Winner Sportsbook and BetVictor.
Betting in the land of the midnight sun
Like in neighboring Sweden, to bet on sports in Norway requires dealing with a heavily regulated market. It should be noted that Norway is not a member of the European Union so is not subject to the cross-border competition rules which Sweden and Denmark are.
The state-owned firm Norsk Tipping offers sports betting, lottery and keno. The state-owned Norsk Rikstoto is the only firm licensed to accept horseracing bets. Betting services offered by any other providers are illegal in Norway. According to a 2010 law Norwegian banks are not allowed to transfer funds or accept credit card charges by customers using unlicensed or foreign betting services.
Some foreign sportsbooks such as the UK-based William Hill have lobbied for licenses to operate in Norway but have been rejected. There are currently some foreign-based online bookies including Bet365, Winner Sportsbook and BetVictor accept wagers from Norwegian bettors. Bet365 and BetVictor even accept bets in Norwegian Kroner. However, with the banking restrictions players must use creative techniques in order to funnel money to the bookmakers.
Wooden shoes and relatively unregulated markets
Compared to its neighbors to the North, the Danish betting market is very open. The state-owned Dansk Spil has a monopoly on the country’s roughly 4,000 land-based kiosks and betting shops. While the company operates without competition in this sector, the market for online sportsbooks in Denmark is open to competition.
The government had originally planned to introduce a licensing system which would mean only online operators located exclusively in the country were eligible to apply. This came up against pressure from the EC on grounds that it violated Article 56. So, in 2011 the government announced that online casinos could host “part” of their online operations outside of the country.
This move opened the door for foreign-based bookmakers to enter the Danish market. In 2012 the Danish gambling authority issued licenses to 25 online operators, including such big names as Ladbrokes, Bet 888 and Bwin. In addition to these providers, the major international bookmaker Bet365 accepts wagers in Danish kroner as well as offers support in the local language. The UK-based BetVictor as well as Winner Sportsbook based in Antigua and Barbuda do the same.
While the abovementioned bookies have licenses to serve Danish bettors, the government has maintained its commitment to preventing unlicensed sites from operating in the country. In 2012 the gaming regulator released a “blacklist” of sites that it would block.
In short, Danish gamblers have only one choice for betting shops, Dansk Spill. In compared to in the other Scandinavian countries, however, they have much more choice with regards to online betting.
That island way out there
While geographers and historians can grapple all day over who is or isn’t Scandinavian, we’ve decided to cover betting in Iceland regardless of which box you would put it into. The island’s just-over 300,000 people are subject to extremely strict regulation with regards to gambling. Icelandic gambling laws are very strict and most forms of gambling are prohibited.
There are no licensed betting providers, although it appears that many international sportsbooks accept bets from the country. The UK-based Bet365 serves customers there as well as the well-known bookies William Hill and Ladbrokes. This appears to be officially illegal but no action is taken against citizens who do this.
As Sweden and Denmark are EU members and subject to Article 56 it appears that the betting markets will become more open before they will become more closed. Sweden has shown more of a reluctance to liberalize betting. Norway is not an EU member, so can regulate or monopolize betting however it seems fit. Currently it has a closed state duopoly, and there is little indication it will change. Lastly for tiny Iceland, betting remains illegal, although it hasn’t stopped many locals from placing bets with foreign bookies.