New Swiss Gambling Laws Will Face a Referendum

Opponents of Switzerland’s controversial new online gambling law have collected enough signatures to force the law to a public referendum. The new gambling law will be put on a national ballot and the public will be given the opportunity to vote for or against the law.

If a majority of the public votes against the law, it will be blocked from taking effect and lawmakers will have no choice but to give up on the issue entirely or submit a new bill.

The Money Gaming Act was passed by the government this past September in order to regulate online gambling and give local land-based casinos the ability to take their games online. Some parts of the law would have been useful for reigning in the online betting industry in Switzerland, but local groups expressed strong opposition to two key pieces of the law deemed protectionist in nature.

First, the Money Gaming Act calls for IP blocking of unlicensed betting sites in Switzerland. If the law is passed, local ISPs will be required to block access to unlicensed sites. Local ISP groups oppose this law as it imposes new burdens on them without providing additional funding to offset the costs of implementing an internet block. Additionally, they argue the measure restricts the freedom of the internet.

A number of local political groups oppose this portion of the bill on free speech grounds. Switzerland has a tradition of protecting civil rights, and some local political parties are not keen on seeing that change. The Young Liberals, Free Democratic Party, the Green Party and other groups have all come out against the new gambling laws on these grounds.

The other measure that has some opponents concerned is the restriction of online gambling to land-based casinos. Some opponents call the new gambling law protectionist in measure as it not only grants existing casinos a monopoly in terms of licensing ability, but also enforces the monopoly via internet blocking.

One Swiss legislator last year summarized the effects of the bill with a simple line: “He that has plenty shall have more.”

The bill could have been successful had Swiss legislators not fallen into the temptation of granting the casino lobby a monopoly and then adding insult to injury by trampling on the country’s long history of civil rights protection.

Groups opposed to the bill had no trouble collecting more than 50,000 signatures within the 100-day limit given to mount a referendum drive. The groups announced earlier this month that they had already collected roughly 65,000 signatures in support of a referendum.

SBC News reports that supporters of the new online betting law have levied accusations against opponents already. Some supports claim that foreign gambling sites provided financial assistance and aided the signature drive.