Gambling in Norway

Casinos in Norway

Betting and lotteries are heavily regulated in Norway, but change could be on the way.

Like many British males, I like a flutter on the football from time to time. More often than not, it's to give me an interest in a particular televised match, than with any serious hopes of making a fortune. Basically, it's a hobby.

But for others, it becomes far more than a hobby. Gambling addicts exist the world over and the temptation has been the downfall of many a rich banker, sports star or celebrity. Whether it be the glitz and glamour of Vegas, a card room in a backstreet London pub, or betting online on the Austrian second division, temptation exists in many forms.

Gambling regulations in Norway

That temptation has got the better of many Norwegians over the years, particularly in rural areas. So much so, that gambling in Norway is heavily regulated by the Government. The only way to play a game of chance or bet on sport in Norway is via the state-owned Norsk Tipping.

In order to bet on horse racing, you must use Norsk Rikstoto, broadly equivalent to the UK's Tote. Don't expect the Grand National though, here in Norway you'll find harness racing, or the name I prefer to use – trotting! This bizarre sport features a small horse with the jockey sat behind in a wheeled cart. Sounds ridiculous, IS ridiculous. If there's one sure-fire way to put Norwegians off betting, it's this:

Trotting at Bjerke, Oslo

Betting on sport is supposedly only allowed through the state. However, foreign bookmakers make a killing from online betting sites that accept bets in Norwegian kroner. In 2010, the Government introduced a law forcing Norwegian banks to prevent transactions from Norway to online betting companies.

However, if you watch live games you'll see the programme sponsored by a major European bookmaker. During the games their odds flash up on-screen, so it's obvious this law doesn't work as intended. There are ways around the rules, such as by using digital wallets or foreign bank accounts.

Games of chance

Of course, playing family birthdays on the lottery each week or risking a few krone on Liverpool is one thing – spending all weekend in a casino is quite another. Casinos are banned in Norway, something I only realised when I went to Gothenburg last year and saw one.

To counter this ban, many Norwegians take gambling getaways to nearby countries such as Sweden, Germany or the UK. The ferries from Oslo to Copenhagen and Kiel even have casinos on board! There's even a Norwegian poker championship, held in… Ireland! The 2012 event attracted over 1,000 Norwegians to Dublin.

One of the biggest causes of problem gambling in recent years was the slot machine. In the 1990s you could find them in any pub, petrol station or even supermarket up and down the country. In 2004, an astonishing 62% of gross gambling expenditure took place on slot machines. The Government needed to act and did, banning all slot machines in 2007. However, two years later the state introduced interactive video terminals – giving a similar experience to slot machines.

Changes in poker laws

Poker played with money has been prohibited in Norway for decades, but things began to change in 2014.   Organisations that have a socially beneficial or humanitarian purpose can apply for a permit to organise a national championship in poker for a period of three years. From 2015 to 2017, a permit was granted to the Norwegian Leukaemia Association. From January 2015, the government has allowed low-stakes poker in private homes between friends and family.

The Government's motive?

Moves such as this have led many to criticise the Government's stance on gambling regulation – accusing them of being more interested in collecting the profits than doing any social good. However, to use the interactive video terminals players are mandated to register and use a special card, which limits their ability to risk more than a set amount.

I know many Norwegians read my blog, so I'd love to know what you think about this. It's since been pointed out to me that (some?) profits from the state-run Norsk Tipping are given to local non-profit organisations and youth sports clubs.

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

4 Comments

  1. I suppose I’m not a Liberal – but I do prefer the government regulations on gambling. This is mostly because former addicts I know (although I suppose you can never stop the need) are working hard to keep these regulations in place. Also, the private gambling industry is ALL profits, and do little to help the impression they’re a horrible bunch of crooks.

  2. This is quite interesting, David. I’m sure the neighbouring countries appreciate the gambling tourism and while I see that it’s very regulated, I wonder if it does indeed limit the heavy-gambler’s debt or just move it to another country?

  3. It has gone so far that you can’t even pay with credit cards at some hotels in Las Vegas, because they also have casinos there. They don’t care so much for the people, they are only interested in our money.

  4. Thank you for an interesting view on gambling here in Norway.

    However, one important fact is that the profits of state-run Norsk Tipping is funneled directly to local (not national) youth-oriented NGOs and non-profit sports teams. And it’s quite diverse. From the fund Frifond you will see organisations ranging from political (Ungdom mot EU and Euopeisk Ungdom (youth for and against EU membership)) to scouting etc.. even computer parties and LAN parties.

    I have myself been in the board of two youth organisations with some thousand members (tied to computer gaming activities), and for many youth NGOs, the funding is very important.

    If it’s a good thing or not, well.. there’s positives and negatives.

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