"Norwegian Monopoly Crashed" - Interview with Carl Fredrik Stenström, General Secretary of the Norwegian Online Gaming Trade Association
We continue to explore the underside of the gambling business together with recognized professionals industries. This time we have translated and updated the interview with Carl Fredrik Stenstrom, a representative of the Norwegian Online Gaming Trade Association. We learned how Norwegians bet, why the state monopoly on casinos does not work, and how much taxes the country is losing due to the most severe restrictions in Europe.
—Tell me about yourself, please.
I have devoted my life to a career in this direction. For some time he worked with the Swedish state sweepstakes ATG and the American supplier of systems for lotteries ILTS. But I spent most of it at Norsk Rikstoto in Norway. He was Commercial Director from 2013 to 2019, and since 2017 he has been responsible for the implementation of responsible gaming tools.
Norsk Rikstoto is the only organization in Norway with a state license to accept bets in equestrian sports. Works since 1982. The resulting profit is spent on the development of horse breeding.
While in Oslo, I spend all my professional time developing a new strict regulation in Norway. It is aimed at protecting problem players.
- You have worked at Norsk Rikstoto, one of Norway's two state-owned casinos, for almost 20 years. Tell us about the differences between Norsk Rikstoto and Norsk Tipping.
The main difference is in the scope of their activities. The companies have divided the Norwegian market: Norsk Rikstoto offers bets exclusively on horse racing, while Norsk Tipping is responsible for the rest of the entertainment.
Norsk Tipping is a state-owned gambling company that is run by the Ministry of Culture. It manages gambling TV shows, entertainment withscratch cards, loto,keno, joker, etc. Income heading back to the sports and culture sector in Norway.
But I think there are cultural differences as well. While Norsk Tipping is under government protection mainly for ideological and economic reasons, Norsk Rikstoto has a strong foothold in the racing community. And I think it's good for the company.
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— Norway has a virtual monopoly in the industry. Do you think this stops the growth of gambling and betting?
Statistics say otherwise. The state monopoly has collapsed. I strongly believe that ordinary Norwegians and gamblers will benefit from an open regulated betting market. This model is more effective in promoting responsible gambling, innovating and improving collaboration.
According to the Lottery Inspectorate, 250,000 Norwegians play abroad. In fact, the number is even higher. The losses for the state amount to more than 4 billion kroons!
- Do you think the Norwegian market is very different from other European countries?
Norway has the toughest regulation in the industry, and there are certainly a lot of differences. At the same time, the Norwegians are one of the most enthusiastic players. Net per capita spending is high and gambling is part of our culture. In a good way.
But there are obvious difficulties. It is important for me to find the best options for local players and the entire industry. And I am convinced that the Norwegian monopoly will not be able to solve these problems on its own.
- Norway has strict laws related to gambling. Can I open a casino myself and get a license?
No, gambling and betting laws prohibit it. At the same time, we have bingo halls, and there are many of them. These establishments are owned by Norsk Tipping, Norsk Rikstoto and Bingo. This is not exactly a casino, but still they offer only gambling entertainment.
— Why doesn't the government want to legalize new casinos? Is this really extra tax revenue for the state?
Authorities consider casinos unnecessary establishments. And we are also convinced that state-owned companies offer enough variety in the market to meet the needs of people.
— What are your predictions on this? Will there be only 2 legal casinos in the country in 20 years, or will the government soften the licensing conditions?
I'll be surprised if in the future none of the deputies sees the positive aspects of opening the market. The emergence of new casinos will increase tax revenues and also make it easier to combat irresponsible gambling.
More and more countries are moving away from the monopoly model. I am convinced that the benefits of regulated markets will soon become apparent to Norwegian politicians and government commissions.
—You place great emphasis on the principles of responsible gambling. Can you tell us how it is in Norway?
The local government thinks the country has a good responsible gambling system. But I strongly disagree with this point of view. Available research unequivocally confirms that problems with gambling are becoming more serious. The Norwegian system needs reform. I hope the government realizes this soon.
Since 2010, the number of dependent players in the country has been constantly growing. A particular surge came during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the Gambling Addiction Norway hotline was contacted by almost twice as many people with complaints of gambling addiction as in the previous year.
— Norsk Rikstoto spends a lot of resources developing procedures and tools to make horse racing safer for players . Tell us more about it.
The Foundation implements various safe game tools. For example, we set a loss limit of NOK 20,000 per month. This caused an active discussion even among politicians. And after the implementation of this technique, we saw that the turnover fell.
Since Norway and Sweden are united in many pools, it seems strange to us that the player has different limits and the Norwegians compete under stricter rules. In this matter, Swedish legislation and the thesis that the operator is responsible for its customers are close to me.
— Do you think the government will soften the laws if everyone understands principles of responsible gambling and will follow them? Or is there some other action needed to change the laws?
Of course, action must be taken. The problems of the current system are now practically not discussed, and I am trying to change this. Not only to promote a more efficient regulated model, but also because a lack of awareness of the cons harms players.
— Current legislation only regulates land-based clubs, not online casinos. When do you think the government will tackle them and what will be the consequences?
There are actually some rules regarding online casinos, so the premise of the question is not entirely correct. But the discussion of laws is constantly going on with two opposing points of view. One side wants to open up the Norwegian market and introduce a regulated regime that will allow foreign gambling sites to operate. The other wants more control over the industry. I think it's clear that I support the first position.
— Which gambling games are more popular among Norwegians? Poker, slot machines, sports betting or lotteries?
Gambling is an old Norwegian tradition. It's hard to choose just one. Residents buy lotteries, bet on sports and horse racing, playpoker and hang out at online casinos. Some kiosks still haveslot machines.Bingo is also in a strong position.
— Do you bet? Surely you prefer horse racing?
In 1982 I won 21,000 crowns with my brother and father in a Swedish V75. I was then 11 years old. Luckily, only adults are allowed to gamble now.
V75 is one of the largest racetracks in the world. Races take place every Saturday on different tracks. Players must select a horse in advance from seven preliminary stages. In addition to the winner, five or six participants also receive payments.
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