The ballot has closed, the votes have been counted, and its not good news for Switzerland’s online gambling sector. The highly controversial referendum set out to limit access to the Swiss market for international operators, in a move opponents said was tantamount to internet censorship. Unfortunately, despite a highly energised and youthful campaign against the law from advocates of online freedom, the referendum has passed in favour of these draconian restrictions.
The law was first proposed late last year, and was passed into legislation before being challenged by opponents, led by the Free Democratic Party’s youth wing. After gathering the required number of signatures to push the matter of a referendum, it had been hoped that there would be enough positive momentum to see off the changes. However, after a heated campaign between contrasting sides of the debate, voters came down overwhelmingly on the side of allowing the law to pass.
This is often a problem in matters of this kind, with gambling at a specific disadvantage in any referendum of this nature. There are far more many opponents, or neutral to gambling than there are those prepared to step forward and champion online freedoms, and this was reflected in the result of the vote. Unless you regularly gamble with an online international operator and the bill would specifically impact you, there are only more abstract reasons to vote down the proposals – reasons that while important, are often harder to convey during the cut and thrust of a referendum campaign.
As a result, the new laws will now pass onto the statute books, limiting access to internationally based operators within Switzerland. Interestingly, the law does permit Swiss based casinos to offer online gambling services, so it effectively creates a monopoly amongst state-based operators at the expense of the freedom of choice that comes with playing at larger operators.
To make matters worse, international operators often offer the best selection of games and bonuses, and the best quality of gaming experience. However, the Swiss government have now successfully got their way, in spite of the strong opposition to the measures.
The vote was carried with 72.9% of those who voted voting in favour of the government’s measures. This will see the new law come into effect early in 2019, and will put the onus on ISPs to block domain-level access to international operators. Of course, there’s also the issue of those that have tried and failed to introduce similar blocking measures in the past, which have always been proven to be ineffective in practice – although that’s a discussion for another blog post.
In particular, older voters were attracted to the government’s proposals, which they said would improve the government’s ability to fund welfare and social commitments from tax revenue in a way that wasn’t possible with international operators. Vociferously challenged by the young, who appeared more concerned with measures to restrict parts of the internet, and the precedent that sets for future, the measures nonetheless got the level of support they required to pass.
In the wake of the result, local casinos are understandably delighted, having effectively been handed a competition-free zone in which to compete. The impact of this for players seems clear – in an uncompetitive, pseudo-monopoly environment, buyers almost always come last. This will mean a poorer selection of games, slower innovation, worse bonuses and promotions, and a whole manner of other limitations that grow in markets where there is little to no external competition.
Understandably, turnout for the vote was very low, with under 35% of the electorate bothering to turn out. This reflects the broad feeling of apathy amongst most voters, who were not particularly affected by the decision either way.
In a campaign where allegations of bribery and underhand tactics have emerged, it’s clear that both sides at least had some willingness to fight dirty. The sad reality now, for those impacted by the legislation, is that they have to suffer inferior choice and service as a result.