Switzerland’s plans to block the domains of internationally licensed gambling sites will face a voter referendum after opponents successfully gathered enough signatures.
On Thursday, a coalition of Swiss political party youth groups, internet service providers and civil liberty advocates submitted a 60k-signature petition protesting the government’s plan to block international gambling operators from accepting action from Swiss punters.
The government approved new gambling laws last year that will allow Swiss land-based casino operators to offer online gambling services, while ensuring there’s no competition from unauthorized international sites. The land-based operators have long blamed international sites for their falling revenue, despite recent evidence to the contrary.
But Swiss law states that any new law can be challenged by voters if at least 50k voters sign a petition within 100 days of a new law’s passage. The anti-blocking campaign easily exceeded that total by the January 18 deadline. The government must now validate the signatures before setting a referendum date.
Andri Silberschmidt, president of the Free Democratic Party youth league that led the petition drive, told local media that the individuals who’d signed the petition “don’t want state interference in legal online offer. And they don’t want protectionism for domestic casinos.”
The Swiss Federation of Casinos (SFC) was unamused by the successful petition drive, which they claim was only possible thanks to the financial support of those same pesky international online operators. The SFC issued a statement claiming that overturning the new law would result in increased problem gambling behavior, less money for social projects and (presumably) great clouds of locusts swarming over the Alps.
This view was rubbished by Swiss People’s Party (SVP) member Lukas Reimann, who reminded local media that domain-blocking was historically ineffective at achieving its goals. Reimann also suggested that government revenue from online gambling would “more than double” if international sites were allowed to apply for local licenses.
Reimann also took issue with the SFC’s argument against international operators’ support for the petition drive, pointing out that “the majority of domestic casinos have foreign owners.” Bottom line, Reimann said he was opposed to “unfair intervention in the market” and said the new law “clearly bears the hallmarks of the local casino lobby.”