STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden said on Thursday it would introduce a limit on how much punters could gamble in online casinos for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak as isolated individuals increasingly turn to such sites for entertainment.
With football and other organised sports shut down by restrictions in place to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, and many Swedes spending more time at home, the use of online slot machines and casino games has rocketed, government officials said.
The government said it planned to limit the amount gamblers can transfer into online casino accounts to 5,000 Swedish crowns ($495) a week. A similar limit would apply to losses on online slot machines.
“What we are seeing at the moment is a dangerous cocktail of different conditions that could increase the risk of problem gambling and gambling addition,” Social Security Minister Ardalan Shekarabi told reporters.
“Isolated individuals, with major worries about their jobs and finances, represent a dangerously fertile nursery for an increase in gambling problems.”
Under the new rules, players will also have to set a time limit for their activities, while bonuses - where online casinos give players extra money to play with to encourage them to switch sites - would be limited to 100 crowns.
Authorities will also be given more tools to block unlicensed gambling sites.
Shares in online casino firms slid on Thursday after the government’s proposals, which will come into force on June 1 and last until the end of the year, were announced.
Shares in online casino firm Kindred <KINDsdb,ST> were down 2.5%. Leovegas was 5.4% lower at 1020 GMT.
Countries like Spain and Belgium have also acted to limit online gambling that has risen under coronavirus lockdowns. Latvia has imposed a total ban.
Sweden has reported 16,004 cases of COVID-19 infection and 1,937 deaths.
The country has taken a relatively low-key approach to curbing the coronavirus, relying on voluntary social distancing more than prohibitions. Many businesses have closed and thousands of workers sent home but schools remain open as Sweden has opted against a total lockdown seen across much of Europe.
Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Mark Heinrich