Aftonbladet defiant over gambling ad ruling

Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet has said it intends to publish an advertisement for Maltese gambling company Expekt, despite a court ruling on Thursday authorizing stiff penalties if it goes ahead.

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.


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.