As the Covid-19 spread around the world in March and April this year, millions of people were asked to stay at home slow transmission and bring the virus under control. Without being able to visit restaurants, watch sports, or see friends and family, people looked to the internet for entertainment and as a result the last few months have been a boon for streaming companies and gaming firms, which have seen their user numbers soar.
Whilst few would argue that streaming a few more episodes of Orange is the new Black or House of Cards will have a detrimental impact on people’s health, the rise in people using online casinos has caused concern. Was this uptick merely the consequence of people bored by lockdown and with some furlough money to spend, or could it be a problem?
Each country has its own regulations surrounding gambling both in the real world and online, and have attempted to address the changing nature of the world this year in their own ways. And two countries that offer a good comparison in how different their outlook is the Nordic neighbours of Norway and Sweden.
Sweden liberalised its gambling laws in 2019, allowing strictly regulated private operators to advertise for Swedish players for the first time. The idea was to create a legal gambling market in the country that will both help keep players safe and provide tax money to the public purse, following the example of countries like the UK. Highly regulated markets limit competition and the variety of offers available to players, but in return player deposits and bonuses are protected and the state can implement nationwide policies like self-exclusion programmes to protect problem gamblers. In response to the new Covid-reality, Sweden introduced just these types of measures earlier this month to limit weekly deposits to SEK 5,000 (£440) and reduce the amount of time players can spend on casino websites in an effort to nudge people towards different forms of entertainment.
Meanwhile, over the border in Norway the industry is entirely different. Gambling in Norway remains illegal for the most part, with two state-run operators holding a monopoly on all commercial gambling within the country’s borders. However, whilst online gambling firms cannot operate with Norway, a number of European and international online gaming firms compete for Norwegian players beyond its borders with websites like casinotopplisten.com highlighting the variety of promotions and deals on offer. Norwegians benefit from more competition for their business, but the unregulated nature of the online market in the country means that Oslo has no tools at its disposal to affect people’s behaviour during the coronavirus crisis.
It remains unclear what impact the global pandemic is having on how and why people are gambling. Global sports was put on pause between March and June and this saw a dramatic reduction in people using sports betting websites, but conversely iGaming businesses saw similarly impressive growth over the same period, with the overall change in gambling possibly limited. As studies are carried out over the next year into how people’s activities have changed in 2020, the picture should become clearer and we will be able to see whether Sweden’s interventionist approach helped or hindered.