Swiss Plebiscite to Decide Fate of Internet Gambling Bill

Saturday, June 9th, 2018 | Written by April Bergman
Swiss Plebiscite to Decide Fate of Internet Gambling Bill

Last year’s drive to crack down on Internet gambling-related crime led to a major civil liberties fight in Switzerland over the past months. That fight culminated in a nationwide referendum on Internet censorship. The Sunday vote is not only pivotal for online gambling regulations in Switzerland, but it could have an effect on Internet censorship in a wide variety of fields.

Late last year, both houses of the Swiss Parliament voted on tougher online gambling laws. In the 2017 Swiss online gambling law, service providers would have to block Swiss gamblers from accessing non-Swiss gaming sites.

Not only would players be blocked from access to the international gaming sites, but they would be redirected to legal Swiss gaming sites.

At the time, Swiss lawmakers believed they had solved the problem of capital flight, while protecting Switzerland’s online gamblers and its gaming operators. Instead, the law’s passage led to months of acrimony.

2017 Anti-Online Gambling Bill

The Swiss Internet Gambling Act reform created a firestorm of controversy. Critics of the Swiss lawmakers’ decisions said the anti-online gambling law was a new form of censorship which could have profound implications for how Swiss citizens accessed the Internet.

If the government could block access to gaming sites, then the precedent would be set that the Swiss government could censor any other form of website its leaders deemed inappropriate, unsuited, or unpopular. The new law would open a Pandora’s box of censorship.

Markus Klummer, the vice-chairman of Switzerland’s chapter of the Internet Society, said in a recent interview, “It’s a slippery slope. Once you have this law as part of your legal framework, then there will be other parts of the Internet where people will say ‘we need to block this.'”

June 10 Online Gambling Plebiscite

After six months of criticism and controversy, the Swiss government is now holding a referendum on whether the new law should take effect. If proponents of the new law win the plebiscite on Sunday, the 2017 law will go into effect.

That would mean Swiss players could only access Swiss sites, because service providers would be required to block access to unregulated online gambling sites. It also would mean no new licensing for the next 6 years.

Social Democrats Support iGaming Ban

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga defends the law, saying the law provides security for the Swiss people and its society. Justice Minister Sommaruga said, “Currently, anyone in the world can set up an Internet casino operating in Switzerland without adhering to our laws.”

Sommaruga added, “There is no obligation to prevent fraud or money laundering: there are no measures in place to protect individuals prone to gambling addiction and their income is not taxed.”

Those Who Oppose the Internet Gambling Ban

Supporters of the “No” proposition say they understand measures must be taken to stop illegal online gambling, but they say the proposed law has many flaws in it. The debate is an two-century-old question for democracies: does security trump liberty? The Greens and People’s Party members who oppose the measure wonder at what price they buy security from problem gambling.

Klummer said, “To keep bad players out is a legitimate concern but to say that only the Swiss players are good players is an argument that takes some convincing.”

Greens Party and Swiss People’s Party

At the moment, the Social Democrats support the illegal Internet gambling bill, while the the Greens Party and libertarianism-inspired Swiss People’s Party oppose the measure. That means the center-left in Switzerland want the bill to pass to protect citizens and society as a while, while members of the progressive left-wing and populist right-wing of Swiss politics are opposed.

Luzian Franzini, 22, co-chairman of the Young Green Party, said the precedent cannot be set that the Swiss government is allowed to censor online content. Franzini said, “It opens the floodgates to spread mandatory blocking measures into other areas, like the music and film industry.”

June 10 Update: Swiss Approve Internet Gambling Censorship

In a June 10 update, 73% of Swiss voters approved the ban on non-Swiss illegal online gambling operators. Swiss service providers will be required to block citizens’ access to international online gambling websites, while redirecting the player to state-approved online gaming sites.

National Council member Karl Vogler called the vote a “pragmatic decision by Swiss voters, who want to continue funding civil society projects with revenue of the casinos and lotteries.”

Marcel Dobler, a parliamentarian of the Radical Party, said his side was disappointed with the results, but their campaign against the law netted positive results. Dobler said, “We may have lost this battle, but put the issue of blocked internet sites on the political agenda.”