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Swiss voters vote on casinos regulation

Voters determine with their votes the rules of the game in the plebiscite of June 10, 2018.

It’s an extraordinary and extremely intense battle. On June 10, Swiss voters decide about the new law about Gambling. For the defense, it promotes the common good and protects the players from the risks of addiction. For the opponents, it spreads the censorship to the Internet and cements the local casinos monopoly. There are huge sums of money at stake.

Roulette, Blackjack, poker: these and other games of chance, Swiss casinos may also offer on the internet if the new Federal Gambling Law (BGS) comes into force. It was adopted by Parliament last September.

As the tables in real games, the virtual tables would also need approval under certain circumstances. The access to all online gambling offers without a federal grant would be blocked.

On the other hand, clubs that have the right to organize big lotteries and sports betting could suggest new forms of lotteries and sports betting with the BGS. For example: betting at booths and in real time, during a sport event.

Other new: prizes won in lotteries and sports betting would be free of taxes up to a million of francs. Today, this rule applies only to prizes up to a thousand francs. Among the innovations of BGS there is also the liberation of licenses for small poker tournaments outside of casinos.

Profits for the common good

The basic idea behind the legislation is that the State regulates and controls the gambling market, while ensuring that the market keeps its offer up to date.

With the implementation of the constitutional article accepted by the people and cantons in 2012 about gambling, the task of BGS is to ensure that the receipts from gambling are directed to the Old Age and Survival (AHV) and Disability Insurance (IV), as well as for the culture, social and charitable and sports institutions.

In Parliament, the new law was passed by a large majority. It was fought be the Green Liberal Party (GLP), the majority of Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and the Green Party, as well as a small minority of the Free Democratic Party (FDP Die Liberalen).

Youth Rebellion

Ironically that law, which was presented by the Swiss government and the parliament as “adaptation to the digital era”, suffers opposition from the called “digital natives”.

The casinos pay between 40% to 80% of their gross income taxes.

Taxes collected from larges casinos (A-Casinos) contribute directly to social security (AHV) and the disability pension fund (IV). Of the medium sized casinos (B-Casinos), 60% of the taxes collected are directed to the AHV/IV and 40% to the cantons cashiers (state government) where the establishments operate. In 2016, the 21 casinos collected 275,9 millions of francs for the pension system. Besides that, casinos also pay taxes on profits like other companies in the country.

The companies, Swisslos and Loterie Romande offer all the lotteries and betting modalities authorized by the Swiss government. All the profit obtained through those activities is directed to beneficent activities, especially in the culture, social, sports and environment sectors. In 2016 the net profit of the two companies was 630 million francs.

They also fund activities that combat addiction to gambling. In 2016, they cost 4,5 million francs.

The young groups of the four major parties represented in Parliament – SVP, FDP, GLP and Greens – called a referendum against the new law. The four young parties have already won their first bet: they have been able to collect the 50,000 signatures necessary to take BGS to the polls.

And not just that: it seems almost certain that the young parties across the political spectrum of Parliament will join forces against the Law of the game. Meanwhile, the young parties of the Social Democratic Party (SP) and the Civic Democratic Party (BDP) have adhered to the “no”.

And the Liberal Youth party was able to prepare the referendum campaign with a smart move: they could persuade the Liberal Party (FDP) delegates to hold the party headquarters against the law, and thus, snub the Party’s parliamentary faction, which had given the green light to the law with great majority.

Against “censure” and protectionism

It’s not the only one, but the main reason for opposition from different sides against the BGS is the blockade of foreign suppliers. If reputable suppliers were excluded, the online players would migrate to the black market, they emphasize. They condemn the “censorship of the State to the Internet” and a “digital isolation”.

For the opponents, that blockade violates economic liberty and information. Such prohibition of the network would be a “dangerous precedent”. “What starts with poker online can quickly lead to more censorship in the field of music, movies and even informational sites”, they fear.

A generalized practice

The cash games aren’t just some consumer goods that are freely available: approvals are now required, said the Swiss Minister of Justice, Simonetta Sommaruga, at the launch of the voting campaign for the BGS.

In addition, the blockade wouldn’t be a Swiss feature: it is a practice that is already applied in many countries. Only in Europe, it is already being implemented in 17 countries, of which two – Italy and France – that are on the border with Switzerland, Sommaruga emphasized.

Game platform operators that don’t possess a federal license wouldn’t pay part of their resources to the AHV/IV and charity institutions, said the minister. In addition to that, they wouldn’t have to take any measures to avoid risks related to gambling, like addiction, fraud and money laundering.

Insufficient player protection

The BGS, however, reinforced the measures to protect people against the pathological addiction to gambling. The obligation to adopt those provisions, which already apply to casinos, would be extended to the cantons and their lottery companies. The new law also stipulates that at least one specialist in drug prevention is among the chiefs of regulatory authorities.

But even in this question, the opponents of BGS are of the opinion that the legal provisions are inadequate, and a national commission of specialist must be established. In addition to that, the cantons must levy a specific tax to finance the costs of the consequences of excessive betting. In particular, they aim the fact that lottery prizes up to one million francs must be exempt from taxes.

Lobbies complicate the game

But in the fight between defenders and opponents of the gambling law are not only arguments that have directly to do with the legal text. This way, the defenders accuse their opponents of being paid by foreign online betting companies.

In fact, the opponents committee received financial aid from two international companies. For this reason, the young group of the Green Party created a separate committee, to be financially independent.

The opponents, on other hand, accuse the supporters of being manipulated by casinos and interstate associations that organize lotteries and sports betting, and from which they received financing for the voting campaign.

The pressure is high and the side where they say “yes” – which includes the government and most of the parliamentary and his cantonal governments – and it has ample and diversified support. Its allies include organizations and associations, particularly sports, cultural and social.

They are also supported by a big committee of advocacy, which includes politicians from right and center parties, from the federal and cantonal politics. The fight continues intense and is far from being decided.


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