Published: June 17, 2018

Swiss Voters Overwhelmingly Choose to Legalize Online Gambling, But Block All Foreign Sites

Switzerland has elected to allow online casinos, though a newly approved law intends to keep foreign operations from sharing in the take.

Per the BBC, Swiss voters have overwhelmingly voted—well above rates suggested by early polling—a measure already approved in Parliament to legalize certified Swiss online casinos, but require internet access providers to block all foreign betting sites:

The new Gambling Act won the support of 72.9% of voters, according to final results, despite accusations that the law amounts to online censorship.

Due to take effect in 2019, the act, which will be one of the strictest in Europe, allows only Swiss-certified casinos and gaming firms to operate.

The government says it is designed to tackle gambling addiction.

Both houses of parliament have already passed the legislation.

According to Agence France-Presse, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga argued that the bans are necessary to ensure compliance with the nation’s laws on gambling, such as rules requiring them to block known addicts. Sommaruga also alleged that gamblers in Switzerland pour about 250 million francs (around $254 million) into foreign gambling sites which pay no in-country taxes and thus do not contribute to anti-gambling programs.

Opponents said that the government could have instead offered incentives to companies that agree to be taxed, as well as “charge the new law will actually drain away revenues, since it raises the threshold for taxable winnings to over one million francs, compared with 1,000 francs today,” AFP wrote. Additionally, they alleged that the referendum on the issue was being driven largely by big money from Swiss casinos, who stand to cash in big time from a prohibition on using the internet to place bets with their competitors.

Critics have also noted that IP and domain bans are easily evaded using services such as a virtual private network. However, according to Intellectual Property Watch, legislators stressed that they were aware of the technical limitations but that other countries were nonetheless successful at moving gamblers to legitimate sites via this method.

Luzian Franzini, the head of the Greens’ youth wing, told AFP that the law sets a “very dangerous precedent” towards internet censorship and that there was a “generation gap” with lawmakers.

“They may not really have understood what this could do to the internet,” Franzini added.

Voters also overwhelmingly rejected a law called the Sovereign Money Initiative, per the BBC, which would have made Switzerland’s central bank the sole valid issuer of new currency (it currently only issues about 10 percent). Supporters characterized the measure as reining in the highly unstable world of global finance. Those in opposition said the measure was too radical and would undermine Swiss banks, which have seen some belt-trimming in recent years but still manage trillions of dollars in wealth.

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