Ahead of Vote, Betsson Chief Critical of Norwegian Payments Ban

3 December 2008

As Norway's proposed payments ban faces a second vote Thursday, Pontus Lindwall, the chief executive of Sweden's Betsson A.B., sharply criticized a bill he thinks -- among other things -- interferes with European consumers' freedom of choice.

Mr. Lindwall, an outspoken opponent of European gambling monopolies, is certainly no stranger to the hot seat. In June, his company opened a terrestrial betting shop in Stockholm -- in clear defiance of Sweden's government-backed gambling monopoly, Svenska Spel.

"As a company, we have been trying to get Sweden and other European nations to realize that they're part of the European Union," Mr. Lindwall told IGamingNews shortly after the shop opened. "Still, changes in legislation, due to that fact, have not happened at all in the way we were expecting. It seems to us that we need to push that to happen, and that's basically the background for the shop."

On Betsson's third-quarter results, meanwhile, the company warned that the payments ban, if enacted, would likely result in a negative short-term impact. Norway, for reference, is one of the company's three largest markets.

"In the case of Norway, we believe that it is obvious to everybody that the legislation has nothing to do with social responsibility but rather with the state finances," Mr. Lindwall told IGN today. "The Norwegian state has shown very little interest in social responsibility so far."

He argued moreover that Norwegian consumers are not likely to appreciate being "cut off from the European gaming market."

Under the payments ban, Norwegian entities that contravene the proposed law by facilitating online gambling money transactions are on the hook. Non-compliant entities could face fines, or worse, criminal prosecution, Rolf Francis Sims, legal adviser to Norway's Royal Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs, told IGN recently.

Neovia Financial, which traded formerly as Neteller, serves a number of Norway-facing operators like Betsson and Unibet. Company representatives did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on whether it intended to continue serving online gambling clients that target Norwegian residents.

Due to regulatory concerns, Neovia discontinued online gambling payment-processing services for its e-wallet customers in Hong Kong and Macau in August.

Ahead of tomorrow's vote, representatives with Unibet and Ladbrokes Norway did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Chris Krafcik is the editor of IGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Mo.