Billions Lost through Foreign Gambling Websites

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Icelanders spend an estimated ISK 20 Billion [$146 Million, €134 Million] on foreign gambling websites every year. This leads to a tax revenue loss of up to ISK 7 Billion [$51 Million, €47 Million], according to the CEO of one of Iceland’s six legal gambling operations.

Addiction a problem

In an interview with Morgunblaðið, Bryndís Hrafnkelsdóttir, CEO of HHÍ, a gambling operation whose proceeds fund the University of Iceland, said that foreign gambling websites like Coolbet, Bet365, and Betsson operate without public oversight and that their proceeds do not benefit Icelandic society.

“Authorities need to take on illegal gambling, which has been allowed to happen in Iceland for too long,” Bryndís said, adding that gambling addiction is a big problem in Iceland, especially among young men. “The problem doesn’t disappear if we introduce harm reduction for addiction and will only increase if nothing is done. The gamblers will find another way and move from legal gambling to the illegal foreign sites which will cause money to stream out of the country instead of going towards good causes domestically.”

Profits for social causes

HHÍ has been operating for 90 years and funds the building and maintenance of the University of Iceland’s campus. Six Icelandic companies have a license for gambling operations in Iceland and their proceeds all go towards social causes, such as education, youth groups or sporting activities.

National Centre Of Addiction Medicine No Longer Profitting From Slots Machines

Gambling addiction

The National Centre of Addiction Medicine (SÁÁ) has ceased its participation in Íslandsspil. Íslandsspil is one of two parties that have a license to operate electronic gambling machines in Iceland according to Icelandic legislation.  SÁÁ’s director states that this step shows that they value compassion over money.

According to Icelandic legislation, gambling is illegal except for a few choice operators, operating within a tight framework. For close to 30 years, Íslandsspil was run by three non-governmental organisations who play a large part in Icelandic society’s infrastructure: SÁÁ, the Icelandic Search-and-rescue Association (ICE-SAR), and the Icelandic Red Cross. While their involvement with slots machines was criticised, the revenue was an important source of income. In particular, the Centre of Addiction Medicine was criticised for benefitting from the slots machines as they offer treatment for gambling addicts.

Director of the National Centre of Addiction Medicine (SÁÁ) Einar Hermannsson stated that exiting the Íslandsspil operation on April 8 allowed SÁÁ to participate in the debate on the morality of slots machines and gambling with the sole goal of representing their wards and helping them get better.

In a post on SÁÁ’s website, Einar states that the decision received a warm response, both in the form of a positive debate but also the more tangible form of increased donations. In the year’s first quarter, donations went up almost 60% compared to the first quarter of 2020. Additionally, a single individual who wishes to remain anonymous donated 10 million ISK to SÁÁ because of their exit from Íslandsspil, writing: “As gambling is a form of addiction, the centre has now made the moral and communal decision to not accept funds originating in slots machines. This means a loss of revenue for the association, something I want to help combat while also honouring the memory of my wife and my own 40-year sobriety.”

Íslandsspil is now run by two non-governmental organisations, the Icelandic Red Cross own 68.75% of the company and Ice-Sar with 31.25%. All proceeds from the operation of the company go to its owners in proportion to their holdings. Íslandspil’s website claims that revenue from Íslandsspil is one of the Red Cross in Iceland’s most important sources of income.

Read more on gambling in Iceland

European Human Rights Court Takes on Icelandic Gambling Case

Gambling addiction

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has decided to take on Guðlaugur Jakob Karlsson’s case against the Icelandic state, Morgunblaðið reports. Guðlaugur says the Icelandic state is breaking the law by allowing the operating of slot machines, which led him to become addicted to gambling, causing him financial and emotional harm.

The case is made on the grounds that the licences for slot machine operation issued by the government are contrary to Article 183 of the Penal Code, which prohibits gambling. Guðlaugur is demanding ISK 76,800,000 ($623,000/€565,000) from the state in damages, in addition to the cost of legal expenses. His lawyer Þórður Sveinsson says the case is on the ECHR’s agenda, though it is not yet known when it will be processed.

Guðlaugur initially charged the Icelandic state for damages in 2016. The Reykjavík District Court dismissed the case in October of 2017. The ruling was confirmed by the Court of Appeal in October 2018. Guðlaugur then applied to the Supreme Court of Iceland for right of appeal, but his application was rejected.

Þórður says the case raises various questions about the legislation concerning gambling in Iceland. “Slot machines are allowed, which are defined as the most extreme form of gambling. And then people are charged for inviting others to play roulette and poker for money,” he stated.

Iceland Review covered Iceland’s gambling regulations in a recent issue.

Parliament Lifts Sunday Bingo Ban

A bill lifting the legal ban on public gatherings and gambling on religious holidays was passed by Alþingi on Tuesday, RÚV reports.

Per a law that went into effect in 1997, it was technically illegal for Icelanders to engage in any form of gambling – such as bingo or the lottery – or to hold dances or private parties in restaurants or other public venues on Sundays, as well as on traditionally Christian public holidays such as Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. This law was not, however, enforced and had long been protested by organizations such as Vantrú, an atheist organisation that has hosted a well-publicised Good Friday Bingo event every year for over a decade.

The bill was introduced by Independence Party MP and former Attorney General Sigríður Á. Andersen in February. It was approved with 44 votes in its favour on Tuesday and had support on both sides of the political spectrum, although this was not true among Centre Party MPs, all of whom voted against it.

In addition to overturning prohibitions on various entertainments on religious holidays, the new bill also overturns previous legal articles which prohibited “hotel operations and related services, the operation of pharmacies, gas stations, car garages, shops at airports and duty free, flower shops, kiosks, video rentals, as well as grocers with a retail space of less than 600 square metres (6,458 sq ft) where at least two thirds of the sales turnover is from foodstuffs, beverages, and tobacco.”

The“bingo ban” law made exemptions allowing art exhibitions, film screenings, and theatre performances to go on during religious holidays, but only after 3.00pm. (This limitation has also now been lifted.)

“With this, the last impediments to providing and enjoying services on the National Church’s specified religious holidays have been eliminated,” wrote Sigríður in a post on her Facebook page. She reiterated, however, that “…the bill was not intended to decrease the significance of religious holidays. The days in question are part of our Christian heritage and as such, they should of course be commemorated as they arise. However, everyone must get to do this in their own way.”