Material gambling regulatory developments in UK, Malta & Sweden

Last month, in conjunction with Valletta boutique law firm City Legal, we co-hosted a “Safeguarding Standards – A cross-country snapshot” conference at the Dragonara Casino in Malta, focussing on the gambling regulatory regimes in the UK, Malta and Sweden.

Six weeks later, following up on that conference, David Clifton and Suzanne Davies have returned to Malta to meet clients and contacts at SiGMA. This return visit has coincided with some very material developments in each of those same three countries.

1. UK and Sweden

It has been announced that the UK Gambling Commission has signed a memorandum of understanding with Spelinspektionen, the Swedish gambling regulator, intended to bring about greater collaboration between the two national gambling regulators in order to ensure better implementation of regulatory provisions.

The UKGC chief executive Neil McArthur has commented as follows in relation to the MoU:

We have excellent relations with other gambling regulators from across the world and our new link up with the Swedish Gambling Authority will give more opportunities to share good practice on a whole host of regulatory issues, cooperate closely and take shared action where appropriate.

Camilla Rosenberg, Director-General of Spelinspektonen, is quoted as saying:

This is an important agreement for us. We have a common interest in many areas. By opening the communication channels between the authorities we become stronger in our supervisory activities. This is the beginning of broad and long-term cooperation. Earlier this year we have entered an MoU with Malta Gaming Authority and Gibraltar Gambling Division.

This is an interesting development, not least because highly-publicised regulatory enforcement measures in the UK and Sweden have meant that the UKGC and Spelinspektionen are now generally regarded as the most robust gambling regulators in Europe.

2. Malta

As SiGMA launched on 26 November, the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) published an Explanatory Note for the benefit of its licence-holders entitled “Guiding Principles for the Application of Enforcement Measures”, that it says is “intended to delineate the guiding principles which the Authority embraces and considers when deciding on which enforcement measure is most appropriate and proportionate in the context of the breach committed, and where the enforcement measure is an administrative penalty or a regulatory settlement in lieu of criminal proceedings, the quantum of such penalty”. The Explanatory Note can be downloaded below.

Highlighting the possibility of a firmer regulatory stance being adopted by the MGA in future, its CEO Heathcliff Farrugia, speaking at SiGMA, stressed the importance of collaboration between regulators commenting that: “collaboration between regulators takes place already, but more can be done, since we share the same objectives”.

3. Sweden

This week has seen two significant judicial decisions:

(a) Moderate advertising

In the first, a case brought by Sweden’s Consumer Agency against Global Gaming’s Ninja Casino business has resulted in a ruling by Sweden’s Patent and Market Court that has shed light of interpretation of “moderate advertising”, a phrase that is not defined in the country’s new gambling legislation that came into force on 1 January 2019. The following are all examples of advertising found to infringe the statutory requirements that “when marketing [gambling products] to consumers, moderation must be observed”:

  • Any pop-up ads that automatically takes up an entire browser window (referred to as “takeover ads), regardless of their content, such ads being described in the judgment as “intrusive”and considered likely to encourage excessive gambling
  • Statements in advertisements that:
    • by use of reference to skill tactics, indicate a player can influence the results of a wager,
    • imply (from claims about quick payments and ease of use) that a player can quickly win large amounts of money,
    • were regarded as aimed directly at commuters by accentuating fast betting and quick payouts or
    • can be regarded as targeting the vulnerable by encouraging them to bet immediately (of a similar type to the “Bet Now! ads announcements outlawed in the UK by tightened gambling advertising standards introduced in February 2018).

(b) Injunctions to cease communications with self-excluded customers

Injunctions have been imposed on (a) William Hill-owned Mr Green and (b) Karl Casino (operated by L&L Europe Limited) directing them to cease all communications with consumers who have self-excluded with Sweden’s national self-exclusion system Spelpaus.

Mr Green maintained that previous such communications had been sent in error and that those errors have now been rectified. For its part, L&L Europe blamed human error, in relation to which a technical safeguard has been put in place to mitigate the risk of repetition. However, all such communications were found to have breached Chapter 15, Section 2 of the Gaming Act (under which marketing materials may not be sent to a player who has self-excluded) and both operators have been warned that they will each incur an SEK2m fine if they contact self-excluded consumers again.