Officials at Sweden’s Gaming Board (Lotteriinspektionen), which regulates gambling, were angry at Aftonbladet’s defiance.
“I would call this contempt of court, pure and simple,” said the board’s chief legal advisor, Håkan Hallstedt.
The Södermanland district court confirmed on Thursday the right of the Gaming Board to fine Aftonbladet 150,000 kronor for every foreign gambling advertisement published.
The paper has three weeks to appeal, after which the Gaming Board will be able to start imposing the fines.
Aftonbladet is far from being the only major media organization to accept foreign gambling advertisements. They can now be seen on a wide variety of newspapers, television channels and websites. The Gaming Board calculates that Swedish media make around 500 billion kronor a year from the adverts.
Under Swedish law, gambling companies are not breaking the law by advertising. The newspapers, TV companies and websites that publish the adverts are, however, breaking a law that prohibits them from promoting non-authorized gaming companies.
The only authorized gambling companies are Svenska Spel and ATG, both big earners for the Swedish state, and certain lotteries linked to voluntary organizations.
“We do not consider that we have done anything illegal,” said Aftonbladet spokesman Olof Brundin following the ruling.
“We’re now going to read the judgment, and will probably appeal, although a decision on that has not yet been taken.”
Fellow tabloid newspaper Expressen and television company TV4 have previously faced similar rulings imposing fines. Police are investigating a number of complaints over gambling adverts.
Media claim that the ad ban contravenes both the freedom of the press as guaranteed by the Swedish constitution and European Union rules. But Swedish courts have so far found against the media in all cases tried. In a number of cases, editors have been fined and given suspended prison sentences.
The Supreme Court has denied the media organizations leave to appeal their cases.
“One wonders how many convictions will be needed for the newspapers to stop publishing these advertisements,” said Håkan Hallstedt.
Until the judgment comes into effect, all the Gaming Board can do is continue to report breaches to the police, while Aftonbladet can in effect continue to bring in money from the adverts.