The taint of the UIGEA looks set to spread further around the world, after the Norwegian parliament approved regulations that would effectively ban online poker. The United States’ ‘Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act’ made it illegal for financial institutions to process transactions between citizens and online gambling operators. Norway’s equivalent sets out to do exactly the same thing, make it illegal for banks in the country to allow money to change hands between Norwegian citizens and online poker and gambling sites.
The proposal needs drafting, and will not come into effect until well into 2009, giving its opponents time to organize a counteroffensive. The Norwegian Financial Services Association (FNH) have expressed concerns similar to those of their American counterparts, worrying that the ban will place an undue burden on the banks’ infrastructure due to the difficulty in enforcing it. A top Norwegian legal adviser believes that the case may well be taken to the European Court of Justice.
According to the government, the new rules are being introduced in order to protect problem gamblers, but detractors have claimed that their intentions are far less altruistic. As in a number of European countries, the land-based gambling in Norway is controlled by a state monopoly. Founded in 1948, ‘Norsk Tipping AS’ directs all lottery and betting outlets throughout the country, channeling all revenues straight back into the government. Any intrusion from foreign or homegrown private gambling companies could be seriously damaging to the government’s income stream.
The exclusionism practiced by a number of countries throughout the European Union has come under fire recently from the EU’s executive body, the European Commission. Former Irish finance minister and head of the EC, Charlie McCreevy, is spearheading efforts to break the monopolies and open up free trade across all sectors. The EC believe that restriction on private gambling companies violates free trade treaties agreed to by all members of the EU, and are employing the European Court of Justice in order to erode opposition from complicit governments. Rulings have already been brought against Italy, after it attempted to block the establishment of land based betting shops by British bookmakers Stan James.
Norway’s up and coming online poker community look to suffer immensely from the new regulations. The country had recently produced its first great internet protege in the form as Annette Obrestad, known as “Annette_15” online. In 2007 she became the inaugural winner of the World Series of Poker Europe, as well as the youngest person ever to win a WSOP bracelet. As one of the finest online tournament players in the world it seems likely that she will be forced to emigrate in order to protect her livelihood. It certainly seems unlikely that Norway will be producing any more world-class players in the near future, should the regulations come into effect next year.