Switzerland’s voters appear ready to support a plan that would restrict online gambling to sites operated by local land-based casinos, while blocking the domains of other operators.
A recent GfS Bern survey of 1,201 Swiss adults found that 52% of respondents plan to vote in favor of the country’s new gambling law when a national referendum is conducted on June 10. Around 39% intend to vote ‘no’ while a mere 9% remain undecided.
Swiss legislators voted last October to approve the new gambling law, which requires would-be online gambling operators to partner with local brick-and-mortar casino operators. Swiss internet service providers would be required to block the domains of internationally licensed online operators that continue to serve Swiss gamblers without local authorization.
However, the youth wing of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) managed to garner enough petition signatures to force a national referendum on the legislation. Local telecom firms and civil libertarians have joined the campaign to strike down the law but it appears that their efforts are coming up short with Swiss voters.
Support for the legislation is strongest among women, older people and residents of Switzerland’s French- and Italian-language regions. GfS Bern co-director Lukas Golder told SwissInfo.ch that “there is potential for a protest vote” but the law’s opponents “have focused too heavily” on the censorship issue.
The referendum campaign has featured tit-for-tat accusations of impropriety, with one ‘no’ parliamentarian claiming he was offered a board seat with a casino operator if he would change his vote, while the casinos claim international gambling sites are underwriting the ‘no’ campaign.
SWISS CASINOS BOSS OKAY WITH ONLINE TAXES
The casino executive who made that offer to the parliamentarian was Swiss Casinos Group CEO Marc Baumann, who this month told the Berner Zeitung media outlet that he wasn’t trying to ‘buy’ the parliamentarian’s vote but says he now recognizes that he “should have made the request only after the referendum.”
Asked why Switzerland shouldn’t let international online operators simply apply for local licenses without having to partner with a local casino, Baumann said he “cannot imagine that they are interested,” in part because “the levies that the federal government plans are the highest in Europe.”
On March 2, Switzerland’s Federal Council opened a consultation on its new gambling rules. Among the subjects up for discussion is the proposed online tax rate, which starts at 20% for the first CHF3m (US$3m) of revenue, rises to 40% on revenue up to CHF10m, then rises incrementally for every CHF1m above that, capping out at a maximum 80% rate.
At those nosebleed rates, it’s perhaps not surprising that the government expects to raise an annual CHF40m-75m from online gambling taxes (from a population of less than 9m people). The Federal Council’s consultation concludes June 15, assuming voters vote ‘yes’ five days earlier.
Despite this onerous online tax burden, Baumann said his Swiss Casinos Group remains interested in launching online gambling services. The Group currently operates a free-play casino site, Swissonlinegames.ch, and is “currently examining cooperation with a foreign company that has experience” in the real-money online sector.
Baumann insisted that this prospective partner is not a company that currently serves Swiss punters, because only companies with “a perfect reputation” will be allowed to operate under Switzerland’s new regime.