23 March, 2023

Final Word: The Swedish Trade Association and the assassination of Olof Palme

Regular Gambling Insider contributor Gustaf Hoffstedt, General Secretary for the Swedish Trade Association for Online Gambling (BOS), discusses how the assassination of a Prime Minister once exposed Sweden’s covert gambling ads…

When I was a kid, my family gathered every Saturday to watch the television highlight of the week: Razzel, a popular lottery program that aired in the 1980s by Sweden’s national public television broadcaster. It was broadcast on public service television and was named after the rattling sound of the machine that drew the lucky winner of the week’s lotto draw. That is, the lotto draw that the state gambling company had a monopoly on. The show aired week in and week out, and I don’t think we missed a single episode in the years that it aired.

This was at the time when certain television programs became so unifying for the nation that they came to be known as “campfire television.” Everyone in the family gathered and watched. And all the families watched. We, young and old, got used to the fact that on Saturdays there was entertainment with imported offerings, like Fawlty Towers and Blackadder, interspersed with the Razzel machine and lotto draw, all baked into an experience lasting several hours. We were educated by the state in the joy and excitement that gambling for money can bring and, already there, my 10-year-old self’s interest in gambling was awakened.

Recently, I was reminded of Razzel when the Swedish Press and Broadcasting Authority issued an important ruling to ban lottery drawings from TV shows. The TV channel and the state-owned gambling company argued that the drawings constituted editorial content, but the Authority sided with the position of the broader gambling industry: that the lottery drawing is a form of advertising. This is important because gambling advertising in Sweden is required by law to contain consumer protection information, stating that the gambling age is 18 and advising consumers on where to turn if they have concerns about gambling.

TV viewers must be able to distinguish between editorial programs and advertising to ensure the most important form of consumer protection. When we can recognise that someone is attempting to sell us something, we become more critical of the content. Conversely, when we believe we are watching journalistic editorial material, we may be less critical and more trusting.

"The only exception to the constantly recurring broadcasts on Saturday evenings was the day after Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated in broad daylight"

Maintaining the boundary between editorial and commercial content has become increasingly challenging in our current era. With influencers often failing to disclose when they’re being paid to promote products and media, and commercial companies collaborating to sell products through native advertising and content marketing, it’s essential consumers are aware of when they’re being targeted by advertisers.

As a representative of the gambling industry, I believe we have a special responsibility to prioritise transparency in advertising. While we offer a fantastic experience to many players, for a small number of compulsive gamblers, our products can become a torment. We must be clear and upfront when there is a commercial interest behind content that is broadcast on TV or published in other media. That’s why I appreciate garish and flashy 30-second ads from gaming companies. There is no mistaking their function and character. They exist to sell their products, and that’s perfectly fine.

The TV program Razzel was broadcast week after week during my childhood and contributed to transforming Swedes into a gambling people. The only exception to the constantly recurring broadcasts on Saturday evenings was the day after Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated in broad daylight. The program was cancelled and the Razzel machine had to wait until the following week before it rattled back to life.

Even today, news reports are interspersed with lottery draws, as well as sports and cooking segments, all under the leadership of the same TV anchor in Swedish television. It has been going on for so many decades that hardly anyone realises anymore that the lottery draw in the midst of it all constitutes advertising. Advertising that, according to the Press and Broadcasting Authority, violates Swedish law. Hopefully, the Authority’s decision marks the beginning of the end for covert gambling advertising. It would be a mercy to pray for. Not because we hate gambling, but because we love gambling.