Herring or Steak

The Wiggin LLP award for “business-friendly level-headedness” for May 2019 goes to Mr Carl Fredrik Stenstrom. Most major remote gambling operators will, at some time or other, have received a ‘cease and desist’ letter from the Norwegian authorities, and if they haven’t had one directly they will probably have been copied in on an official broadside along the same lines addressed to the media channels that carry their advertising. In parallel, the Norwegian authorities have gone out of their way to make the processing of payments relating to gambling difficult. In the case of the writer, the response has always taken the form of a polite letter asking for an explanation of the legal basis for the threats, under EU as well as Norwegian law. Rather than following the Danes and the Swedes however, the Norwegian authorities continue to pursue a more confrontational approach. ‘Gambling Compliance’ reports that Mr Stenstrom, who this month joined the Norwegian Trade Association for Online Gambling from his previous role at the race-betting monopoly Norks Rikstoto, as seeking a “fact-based discussion with the government”. As more jurisdictions regulate the supply of remote gambling in discussion with responsible operators and other voices in society with a view (good or bad) of gambling, the Norwegian position looks increasingly anomalous. The hope is that Mr Stenstrom and the big Scandinavian-facing operators are able to instigate a constructive dialogue with the Norwegian authorities with positive results for operators, customers, tax revenues and social responsibility alike.

One model, for a jurisdiction seeking to open the door but not the floodgates, is the process currently underway in the province of Buenos Aires. Argentina is a federal state with 23 provinces and the urban authority of Buenos Aires. Laws passed in December 2018 by the province of Buenos Aires provides for seven online licences, each with a fifteen-year term. There are considerable costs as well as various qualifying criteria. Perhaps Argentina will in due course develop into a federated licensing system, where the licences of one province are recognised across others. This is something that would be extremely welcome in other places closer to home, such as Germany, where the Schleswig-Holstein regime is surely the blueprint for a sensible future system rather than yet another iteration of the State Treaty on Gambling.

The development of regulation underscores the same reality as the anti-gambling voices so strident in much of Europe at the moment: the need for operators to redouble their efforts to engage with society. In particular, the industry needs to promote and pursue a co-ordinated and unashamed pro-business, pro-social responsibility and pro-individual choice strategy, that involves dialogue with politicians, regulators, pressure groups and charities, and customers. Perhaps the sort of discussion that Mr Stenstrom seeks to instigate in Norway right now. All best wishes to him.