Online poker players in Sweden have reason to celebrate this month as the government took a huge step towards a more progressive, regulated online gambling market.
Sweden’s parliament voted nearly unanimously in favor of a new bill that will officially allow foreign online gambling operators in the country and remove the current gray area of the market that currently exists.
Previously Sweden was officially limited to the state-owned Svenska Spel while foreign operators could only operate from offshore.
Parliament was overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, regardless of party, with nearly 94% voting their approval.
Sweden was at the forefront of the online poker boom of the mid-2000s contributing software and businesses as well as producing some of the best players in the world but its laws regarding online gambling have remained restrictive compared to countries like England.
It’s hoped the new regulated market in Sweden will help keep unlicensed online gambling from contributing to criminal activity. The government also hopes to raise money through taxes on the new licensees.
The regulator plans to open the licensing system on August 1 with the licenses issued in time for the market officially opening for business on Jan. 1, 2019.
Time to Gain Regain Control of Swedish Market
Currently, foreign operators do business in Sweden but they are technically restricted from advertising and marketing. They are also considered to be contravening the existing law.
In practice, the Swedish government was unable to keep online operators from advertising because it contravened against EU treaty law.
The new bill wipes the floor clean and will set a new precedent for online poker in the country.
“Unregulated gambling has taken over and gambling is used in criminal activities. It is 14 years since the first of a line of gambling inquiries was appointed,” said Minister for Public Administration Ardalan Shekarabi.
“It is now time for us to move from words to action and regain control of the Swedish gambling market.”
It’s unclear what will happen to the poker side of Svenska Spel. The state-owned operator, which currently runs on the aging GTECH platform, will suddenly have a great deal more competition.
New Bill Includes Tax of 18%
The new licensing system will include a gambling tax of 18% for operators. That means operators will pay an 18% tax on their gaming revenue. The licenses will be valid for a maximum of five years.
The tax is fairly standard for online poker with Spain and Italy setting their tax at 20% while New Jersey taxes online gambling at 17.5%.
According to the new legislation the state will retain control over land-based casinos, large lotteries and gaming machines positioned outside of casinos but that leaves online poker, sports betting, bingo and other digital products available for licensing.
Because of the licensing fees and taxes it will likely be difficult for new players to enter the market and it’s likely the market will be dominated by the larger operators at least at first.
It’s expected that poker sites will be able to welcome Swedish players to their dot-com global sites instead of a walled-off Swedish-only sites.
Swedish Poker Pros in Demand?
It’s complete conjecture at this point but it will be interesting to see if any of Sweden’s highly-vaunted poker pros will be snapped up by online poker sites looking for a representative in the area.
Perhaps the biggest free agent in Swedish poker is Viktor “Isildur1” Blom who previously had deals with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
Some of the other Swedish heavy hitters include Anton Wigg, Michael Tureniec and Ramzi Jelassi.
Meanwhile, 888poker is already set for official expansion into Sweden with arguably the most famous Swedish poker player — 2014 WSOP champ Martin Jacobson — wearing an 888 patch these days.
There’s still a decent amount of time before the new market officially launches but for now the new gambling bill seems like a solid piece of commonsense legislation that offers something to players, operators and the government.