Switzerland Votes to Block Foreign-Based Online Casinos

Switzerland has chosen to block foreign betting sites on the Swiss internet, according to a referendum held on June 10, 2018.

Results of the referendum showed that 72.9 percent of voters backed the Swiss Gambling Act—aimed at stopping the rise of gambling addiction in the country. The law, which will take effect next year, will allow casinos based in Switzerland to offer online variations of roulette, blackjack, and poker. In addition, the law will block online access to foreign-based gaming companies.

The two levels of Swiss parliament already passed the Act last September 29, 2017. However, on January 18, 2018, youth wings of different political parties—most notably of the Free Democratic Party—submitted 60,744 signatures enough to present the act before the referendum.

Ja und Nein

According to the dissenters, the banning of the domains of offshore gaming companies mirrors that of censorship in an authoritarian state. The opposition added that the move compromises the personal rights and information freedom. The ban, they said, could set a precedent for similar censorship laws across the internet.

The NO campaign, on their website, explained:

Die Freiheit des Internets ist jedoch ein Grundrecht, das nicht beschnitten avour darf! Die Einrichtung der Netzsperren stellt eine gefährliche Erstentscheidung dar. Ist die entsprechende Infrastruktur erst einmal eingerichtet, lässt sich die Sperrliste beliebig erweitern. Das Internet muss grundsätzlich überall frei zugänglich sein ([The] freedom of the Internet is a fundamental right that can not be curtailed. Setting up network locks is a dangerous first decision. Once the infrastructure has been set up, the blacklist can be expanded as required. The internet… must always be freely accessible everywhere).”

However, the government—who campaigned in favor of the Act—defended the prohibition of foreign gambling sites. The administration argued that the censorship would offer bettors protection from illegal, and therefore blacklisted, foreign websites. In addition, the Act would mandate licensed casinos to follow preventive measures to protect gambling addicts who, according to a study, count up to 75,000 people.

The YES campaign, on their website, said:

Das Internet wird nicht gesperrt! Es geht lediglich darum, vor dem Zugang zu Anbietern von illegalen Online-Geldspielen zu schützen, die sich nicht an die nationalen Vorschriften zum Schutz vor Spielsucht und Geldwäscherei sowie an das geltende Abgaberegime halten. Über 16 europäische Länder nutzen den Zugangsschutz bereits, Tendenz steigend (The Internet is not blocked! It is simply a matter of protecting against access to providers of illegal online gambling that do not comply with national rules on the prevention of gambling addiction and money laundering, as well as applicable taxation regime. Over 16 European countries already use access protection, and the trend is rising).”

The Swiss leadership also claimed that the treasury loses money with gamers playing on illegal gambling sites and foreign online casinos. The YES campaign maintained that an estimated amount of CHF250 million flows out of Switzerland every year. The Act, limiting online gaming to licensed Swiss-based casinos, would ensure that the money spent by bettors would be taxed accordingly and would be shared with charitable sectors. According to the same campaign, the Act would allocate around CHF1 billion each year toward culture, social affairs, sports, and the environment.

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Sweet Swiss Dream?

While the Yes and No parties continue to argue, the Swiss casinos have already popped the celebratory champagne. The Act would give all 21 licensed brick-and-mortar casinos in the country the sole right to offer legal online gambling services in the country. The casinos, for their part, offered to continue their support in funding pensions and other humanitarian causes.

Marc Baumann, Swiss Casinos Group CEO, said:

Swiss Casinos ist erfreut darüber, dass das Schweizer Stimmvolk das neue Geldspielgesetz sehr klar angenommen hat. Damit wird sichergestellt, dass sowohl die AHV als auch die Bereiche Sport, Kultur und Soziales in Zukunft weiterhin aus Casino- und Lotterieerträgen unterstützt werden können. Jedes Jahr werden mehr als 300 Millionen Franken in die AHV und über 600 Millionen an gemeinnützige Projekte überwiesen (Swiss Casinos is pleased that the Swiss voters have very clearly adopted the new law on gaming. This will ensure that both the AHV and the sports, cultural and social sectors can continue to be supported by casino and lottery revenues in the future. Each year more than CHF300 million are transferred to the AHV and over 600 million to charitable projects).”

Meanwhile, the opposition suggests that the bettors are on the losing side of the Gambling Act. According to the dissenters, the Act presents a huge possibility of an online casino oligopoly. The Act would reduce the Swiss gamers’ choices of gambling sites to play in. With the foreign betting market removed, the Gambling Act would also hinder the growth of local casinos without the presence of more competent overseas competitors.

With the Gambling Act due to take effect in early 2019, it is up to the government and the local casinos to entice the Swiss betting market into playing in the country’s gambling sites instead of playing in foreign betting sites through illegal bypasses.

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