Norway has produced some of the best poker players in recent years, including Annette Obrestad, the youngest player ever to win a World Series of Poker bracelet. Despite this, gambling in Norway is heavily restricted, with tough legislation tracing back to when gambling was considered something of a vulgarity in the 1950s. Nevertheless, there was a gambling boom in the decades that followed, contributing to Norway now having the third highest gambling rate in Europe. Recently, this has pushed the government to enforce stringent measures against gambling activity, in an attempt to exercise greater control over the industry and stem its popularity.
Like its Scandinavian neighbour Sweden, Norway’s only legal betting companies are wholly state-owned, and there are just two of them: Norsk Rikstoto and Norsk Tipping. The former is used to regulate tote betting and animal based sports such as horse racing, whilst the latter offers the citizens of Norway a whole range of lottery, sports and instant betting markets.
Beyond this, the laws are tight to the point that gambling is virtually illegal in Norway, particularly with regards to the digital sphere. The most common reason for this control offered by the government is that heave restrictions help to combat the problem of gambling addiction, which is found particularly in the country’s more rural areas.
In order to protect its citizens from the temptation of online gambling, the Norwegian government looked to America for inspiration in its law writing. They used the U.S. 2006 Unlawful Internet Enforcement Act as a blueprint for their own laws that came into effect on 1st June 2010. This law was a response to foreign bookmakers attracting Norwegians to their websites, and made financial transactions between the country’s residents and online gambling operators illegal. In addition, as Norway has twice turned down membership to the European Union, operators in other EU states are unable to challenge the laws in EU Court as they have done with Sweden.
Like much legislation on online activity, the ban is difficult to enforce, and the government do not currently make attempts to ban the IP addresses of gambling sites. In 2011, a full year after the new law was put in place, over 340 overseas sports betting websites admitted that they were still doing business with Norwegian citizens, meaning that gambling aficionados have plenty of opportunities to bet on their favourite sports using the best online casinos in the world.
Like the UK, one of Norway’s most popular sports betting markets is horse racing, although the sport itself differs slightly from British version. Rather than the jockey sitting on top of the horse, they sit instead on a two-wheeled chariot pulled by a horse that is of a smaller breed than those used in the UK. This unique sport attracts thousands of spectators, and an even greater amount of wagers.
Football is also a very popular market, and betting on the sport is one of the main ways that Norwegians flout the 2010 law forbidding them to bet on foreign sites.
While the government cites reasons of problematic gambling to justify its tight legislation on the activity, the general consensus among the public is that the tough approach does not work. The criticism is that while gambling addicts always find a way to flout the laws, the government's ban punishes all of its citizens for the problems of a small minority. The new laws may well be having the opposite effect to that intended, increasing problematic gambling by driving participants towards illegal activity. An analysis by the Norwegian Gaming Board in 2007 showed that 1.3% of 3,000 gamblers surveyed were judged to be addicts. The same study was repeated in 2010, after the new laws had passed, but the number had actually increased to 2.1%.
The Norwegian government has been drawing up plans to start blocking IP addresses in order to make maintaining the laws more viable. Given the subsequent fallout of the 2010 act, however, the government may need to rethink its strategy. By making online gambling legal, and opening the market up to competition to the state-owned pair of operators, it would end the concealment of problematic gambling and allow the problem to be tackled head on by a more practical policy.
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