The landlocked Swiss Confederation is best known for skiing, chocolate, neutrality and a rather secretive banking system. Despite the country’s reputation for being an international tax haven, Switzerland enjoys a low unemployment rate of 3% and is even considering enforcing a maximum pay gap of 12:1 between the highest paid worker in a company and the lowest. Yet for all the wealth invested in the country, the national gambling industry is only just finding its legs – particularly online.
Gambling of any kind was officially prohibited in Switzerland in 1921, a ban that stayed in place until 1993. Even this new legislation did not overturn the ban completely, permitting limited-stakes casino gambling only. A few years later, the Federal Law on Games of Chance and Casinos was amended to allow unlimited stakes gambling in Swiss casinos.
The attraction of this new activity seems to have been immediate, with one fifth of the Switzerland’s citizens now classed as frequent gamblers and over half the population regularly playing the lottery. There’s now a total of 19 casinos spread over Switzerland’s 26 cantons (member states), in addition to 11 horse racing tracks. No canton has more than one of each, but in these venues everything from slots gaming to parimutuel betting is permitted.
Although a national lottery is still illegal under the 1921 laws, the cantons were given free rein to set up individual state lotteries. Several of these have now merged, with only two companies now running the lottery; the Société de la Loterie de la Suisse Romande which operates the Loterie Romande, and Swisslos, which runs Sport-Toto. Both of these organisations joined the Euromillions in 2004 and now also offer limited sports betting.
However, online gambling and online casinos are still technically illegal within the Swiss Confederation, although this may well be about to change. The Swiss government is currently looking to introduce regulation to the online gaming market, with an initial review launched in the tail end of 2013. Even without that, the Swiss are unable to actually enforce the ban on online gambling, so people usually find a way to access sites. As the national languages of Switzerland include French, German and Italian, players from every canton have no difficulties finding online casinos that cater to their linguistic needs, and Swiss banks have no objection to moving funds to online bookmakers, even if they are abroad.
Beyond horse racing and the lottery, like most other European countries the Swiss are a nation of deeply passionate football supporters. The country jointly hosted the 2008 UEFA European Championships with neighbouring Austria, and qualified for both the 2010 South African World Cup and for Brazil 2014. Rugby has also proven to be a popular choice for sports betting, with the Swiss rugby team dating back to 1869.
Thanks to the superb slopes located in exclusive resorts like Gstaad, Zermatt and St. Moritz, skiing and other winter sports are also followed enthusiastically by spectators and gamblers alike.
Of all the casino games offered, poker is the one that is most prevalent among players in Switzerland. The annual Swiss Open Poker Championship has been running since 2006, and is held at the end of September, usually in the Grand Casino Bern or Gran Casino Baden. This event attracts not only the best Swiss players, but the top talent from all over Europe.
The various modes of gambling have proven very profitable for the Swiss government, especially through the taxes on casinos. Yet despite the money charitably reinvested by the non-profit lottery companies, some are concerned by the health issues that have been created by gambling’s increasing popularity in the country. However, with the inevitable legalisation of online gambling creeping ever closer, it seems the Swiss government will continue to ride the money train that the industry is driving towards an even more lucrative future.