Svenska Spel launches online poker

Sweden's first home-grown poker web site was launched on Thursday, amid allegations that security failings could lead to customers' bank account details being accessed by fraudsters.

Svenska Spel, the state-run gambling monopoly, was given the go-ahead by the government last autumn to start its own online poker service.

Eager to capitalise on increasing demand for online poker in Sweden – with players all currently using foreign-run sites – the organisation committed itself to a spring launch.

“Svenska Spel’s net poker is needed. Around 200,000 Swedes play poker on the internet today – with us they’ll get a first class, entertaining site in Swedish, completely designed for Swedish poker players,” said the organisation’s managing director Jesper Kärrbrink.

But according to an investigation carried out by the Metro newspaper, the site makes it possible for embezzlers to use a person’s bank card number to transfer money out of their account and into an account with the Svenska Spel site.

Unlike other poker sites, such as that run by Ladbrokes, there is no check that the bank account actually belongs to the person setting up the account with Svenska Spel.

However, Svenska Spel say they are satisfied with their routines, and that any more checks would make the process awkward for customers.

When the government approved Svenska Spel’s plans for online poker, it imposed strict conditions in an attempt to prevent misuse and increased gambling addiction.

“Our poker will increase players’ safety since we have very high ambitions and demands for responsibility and security,” said Kärrbrink.

“Players must set their own personal limits, in terms of both time and money, before they can begin playing. Our operation is controlled by the relevant authorities the whole time.”

The rake – the fee for playing on the Svenska Spel site – is 2.5% of the stake. Svenska Spel expects to generate around 250 million kronor per year from its online poker.

Poker was first introduced in Sweden at the end of the 19th century. The game became so popular that by the 1950s the union organisation LO was running campaigns warning of the perils of the game.

It was not until 1975 that the first Swedish poker championship was held – in Monte Carlo, to avoid Swedish gambling laws.

In February 2005 Svenska Spel applied to run online poker games in Sweden. Its timing was just right, as Swedes’ enthusiasm for online poker is exploding: in August and September 2005 the most sold non-fiction book in the country was ‘The Poker Handbook’.

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Gambling addicts ‘not getting enough help’

Swedish health authorities have criticised the lack of help available in Sweden for gambling addiction, with many municipalities providing no resources at all to deal with the problem.

Despite recent figures suggesting that nearly 200,000 people in Sweden have some kind of gambling problem the institute has slammed local authorities for not spending enough money dealing with the problem.

At least 50 municipalities provide no treatment at all for compulsive gamblers according to Sweden’s National Institute for Public Health (Folkhälsoinstitutet).

“It is very serious for those who are addicted to gambling and for those who live with problem gamblers, Marie Risbäck, coordinator of problem gambling issues at the Institute, told Sveriges Radio (SR).

Gambling problems are especially prevalent among young men, where it is estimated that one in ten between the ages of 18-24 have issues to some degree with over 17 billion kronor ($2.5 billion) wasted just on Svenska Spel, ATG and other ostensibly Swedish betting operations.

Three years ago a survey showed that some 40 municipalities provided no help to those with gambling problems, and the situation has just got worse since, with even fewer resources being made available.

The Public Health Institute believes that the government on a national and local level is not taking responsibility for doing anything about it.

It has therefore called for a state run action plan for the prevention of problem gambling, clearer rules on betting advertising, and an increase in care and treatment to all those in need.