Swiss voters to have say on online gambling domain-blocking

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Switzerland’s scheme to occlude the domains of internationally licensed gambling sites will encounter a voter referendum post the successful collection of sufficient signatures by the opponents.

On Thursday, a 60k-signature petition objecting the government’s plan to block international gambling operators from accepting action from Swiss punters was submitted by a coalition of Swiss political party youth groups, internet service providers and civil liberty advocates.

Last year the government accepted the new gambling laws that will enable the Swiss land-based casino operators to offer online gambling services, while confirming zero competition from unauthorised international sites. The land-based operators have accused the international sites for their falling revenue, despite of the recent evidence that proved 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 exceeded that total with ease by the January 18 deadline. The government is now forced to validate the signatures before setting a referendum date.

Andri Silberschmidt, the President of the Free Democratic Party youth league that led the petition drive, told local media that the individuals who had signed the petition do not want state interference in legal online offer. And they don’t want protectionism for domestic casinos.”

The Swiss Federation of Casinos (SFC) seemed to be nonchalant by the successful petition drive, which they claim was only possible provided 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 behaviour, 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 brought to the attention of the 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.”