Reform of Swiss gambling law set for voter approval
Voters have the final say on a ban on casinos operating online and located outside Swiss borders. The proposal is part of an overhaul of the country’s gambling law that also includes measures against addiction.
Parliament approved the reform last year, but opponents collected enough signatures to challenge the amended regulations in a nationwide referendum.
The campaigners hail from several youth wings of political parties on the right and left. They argue the law is too restrictive and paves the way for state censorship of the internet.
Critics of the law also believe it gives an unfair advantage to the Swiss casino industry by shielding it from offshore competitors. And it fails to provide efficient protection for victims of gambling addiction, they say.
At stake in this referendum are vast sums of money spent annually on gambling in the 21 licensed Swiss casinos, official lotteries and commercial bets.
Under a constitutional amendment confirmed by voters in 2012, revenue worth an estimated CHF1 billion ($1 billion) per year goes towards Swiss civil society as well as the state old age pension system.
Supporters of the law – the government, parliament as well as the cantons – warn that offshore casinos would win an increasing share of that revenue. Sports, culture and social organisations risk losing a key source of funding.
The latest opinion polls, carried out three weeks ago, found that backers of the law hold a clear lead over its opponents.
The pro and anti-campaigns ahead of Sunday’s referendum were marked by mutual allegations of undue lobbying from interest groups.
Supporters accused the law’s opponents of relying on financial support from abroad, not only during the collection of the necessary signatures but also in the final phase of the campaign.
Naysayers for their part pointed the finger at the Swiss casino industry, accusing it of trying to boost its influence on Swiss parliamentarians.
Another heated debate focused on plans to block online access to websites of casinos operated outside the country.
In their campaign, opponents appeared to target the young generation of potential voters, raising the spectre of censorship and further state intervention in the free use of online offers.
Beside the referendum on the gambling law, voters also have the final say on a proposal for a sweeping reform of Switzerland’s monetary system – the Sovereign money initiative.
Switzerland’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics is submitted to a public ballot. Voters in canton Valais decide on a CHF100 million ($101 million) credit this weekend.
Votes and elections also take place in numerous cantons and municipalities.
The government has dismissed these allegations, saying at least 17 other European countries resorted to blocking websites of unlicensed gambling providers.
The impact of these negative campaigns appeared to be limited, according to pollsters. Opponents lost ground to supporters in the final phase despite holding the upper hand in terms of media coverage, notably in the German-speaking parts of the country.
Supporters initially struggled to present a united front amid internal disagreements.
Striking features of the past few weeks were the divisions among many of the main political parties and the business community. The latter showed noticeable restraint throughout the campaign.
The rightwing Swiss People’s Party abstained from a public vote recommendation while the centre-right Radical Party leadership was voted down by its delegates calling for a No vote.
Meanwhile, the youth wings of all but one major political party have sided with opponents and several cantonal chapters have been showing their dissent.
….and low turnout
Despite a lively debate on social media channels, the issue has not attracted a broad interest.
Observers say opponents failed to extend the scope of their campaign beyond the circles of digital natives, a generation which is notoriously underrepresented in the ballot box decisions.
Turnout in the June 10 nationwide votes is likely to be below average at around 40%. In comparison, over 54% of citizens took part in the nationwide ballots earlier this year about scrapping the public broadcast licence fee system and an extension of the federal tax regime.