12 May, 2023

Carl-Fredrik Stenstrøm: Shedding light on Norway's gambling monopoly

The Norwegian gambling monopoly is in the process of being erased due to the grey areas it has knowingly and willfully moved into, writes Carl-Fredrik Stenstrøm, Secretary General Norsk Bransjeforening for Onlinespill (NBO).

The Norwegian gambling debate has for a long time been characterised as partly non-existent, or partly simplified to stereotypes about the good and the bad. This is now changing. Not least thanks to good journalistic revelations of all the grey areas one would rather not talk about so much, in a world where everything should be black or white.

Selling of viewing rights

In a series of articles, Norway’s largest daily newspaper VG has showcased how Norwegian sporting federations make a lot of money by selling viewing rights out of the country. Who pays? Non-Norwegian regulated gambling companies who can offer customers streaming of Norwegian football, volleyball and ice hockey on their websites.

Absolutely fine, says the Norwegian Confederation of Sports, which is otherwise the state-owned Norsk Tipping’s largest beneficiary and the monopoly’s most ardent defender. The reason is that it is sold via an intermediary. Or as Sports Confederation president Berit Kjøll stated in VG on 1 March: “These are a legal business and agreements that are not in conflict with the Norwegian gambling legislation”.

She was supported by responsible Government Minister Anette Trettebergstuen, who, when confronted by the opposition parties, stated on a general basis: “It is not contrary to Norwegian gambling regulations for Norwegian organisations to sell streaming and data rights to foreign agencies, who resell these rights to international gambling companies that block them from being shown in Norway.”

Political Catch 22

For the Minister, this was a classic Catch 22: If she went against the agreements, she would shake the historic trinity between her Labour Party, sports and Norsk Tipping. If she supported it, she would in practice be politically sanctioning that Norwegian sports make money from the same non Norwegian regulated gambling companies she has otherwise stated to be both irresponsible and a threat to problem gamblers. She chose the second option.

Many of the individual athletes who previously had sponsorship agreements with non-Norwegian regulated companies have probably taken note of this. Their agreements were met with both moral condemnation and threats of being kicked out of national teams and tournaments.

Unclean trot

We find yet another grey area within the horse trotting sport. In an attempt to prevent further falls in turnover, the private monopoly entity Norsk Rikstoto takes part in pool games where it offers Norwegian customers bets on races organised in other countries. Who is behind this? The same non-Norwegian regulated companies that Norsk Rikstoto, the Ministry and the monopoly-friendly politicians otherwise forcefully distance themselves from. Once again, we are witness to stakeholders within the Norwegian gambling monopoly pointing a finger of condemnation with one hand and accept money with the other.

Missing out on collaboration

The real losers in these grey areas are the problem players who are otherwise pushed in front of them. The unison feedback from markets re-regulated to license systems is thevalue of collaboration: between the licensed companies who together have a far greater share of turnover, between authorities

and the companies who together have a far greater share of turnover, between the companies and not least between companies and treatment environments. Collaboration is the key to everything from effective tools such as Spelpaus.se to alignment between treatment and research, and development.

Constantly new revelations of double standards make it politically more difficult to defend

Trolls crack in the sun

The good news is that the more these grey areas are exposed, the more difficult it becomes to continue a debate where everything is presented as black and white. The Netflix hit Troll showed how the Norwegian fairytale creatures, who may seem invulnerable, explode as soon as the sun shines on them. This is also the case with the gaming monopoly: constantly new revelations of double standards make it politically more difficult to defend.

And once it cracks, it can disappear fast. In Sweden, Svenska Spel and ATG themselves opened for a re-regulation, as did Finnish Veikkaus last summer. Both of the two state-owned gaming companies understood the developments in the political landscape and realised that their position in a new regulation would be stronger if it happened before they had lost further market share. In Norway, both Norsk Tipping, politicians and beneficiaries now have sun on them.