The Norwegian government initiative to disrupt online gambling financial transactions with legalization stopping financial houses from processing such arrangements (see previous InfoPowa reports) moved a step closer this week with a proposal sent to Parliament for a vote.
If the proposal is accepted by Parliament, the Minister for Culture and Church Affairs Trond Giske will have achieved something of a Nordic equivalent to the highly controversial American Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. It is understood that Giske's proposal applies to payment processing of online gambling transactions, effectively criminalising any Norwegian financial institution that processes such payments. Norwegian law prohibits the marketing, promotion or facilitation of Internet gambling services, and the amendment seeks to extend that activity to include payment processing.
Giske will be remembered for his 2006 actions to ban all land slot machines except those controlled by the state monopoly Norske Tipping. Giske and his officials have had online gambling in their sights for some time, and last year appeared to be aiming for an amendment to existing gambling legalization so that payment processors fall within it rather than an entirely new law.
Under the guise of a "clarification" the proposal went forward for public comment until mid February 2008, after which it was subjected to legal drafting by Giske's officials prior to being placed before Parliament. At the time Giske was said to be aiming for Parliamentary approval in the summer. Since then there have been demands from the anti-online gambling lobby that the proposal should be widened to include ISP blocking and other draconian moves that have failed elsewhere in Europe.
The European Commission is already keeping a close eye on Norwegian developments. While Norway is not a full member of the European Union, it is part of the EU market and EFTA, located in the European Economic Area. Senior law practitioners in the country have reportedly cautioned that the proposed ban could result in European Court of Justice proceedings.
Online poker in particular is a popular pastime among Norwegian and indeed Scandinavian players, many of whom have shown a world class capability in the game by winning tournaments and large prize purses at events both online and around the world.
The "justification" for a ban of financial transactions with online gambling companies will probably be the protection of Norwegian problem gamblers, but there can be little doubt that the state gambling monopoly Norske Tipping is being protected.
Studies late last year showed that up to 71 000 Norwegians – 1.5 percent of the population – have a serious gambling problem and 133 000 are considered to be in the risk zone. The average problem gambler in Norway was spending Euro 5 000 a year on gaming at that point. The Norwegian Gambling Commission said earlier this year that an estimated 244 000 Norwegians gambled online in 2007 spending Euro 961 million. The Norwegian Lotto was the preferred online game by 48 percent of respondents, followed by online poker at 28 percent, sports betting at 27 percent and casino games at 7 percent.