Responsible Gaming in the Swedish Monopoly

Recently, the Swedish government-owned gaming company, Svenska Spel, which enjoys statutory monopoly on most forms of gambling services, including lotteries, online poker and casinos, was awarded the World Lottery Association's (WLA) Award for Responsible Gaming Excellence. The Swedish government has commissioned Svenska Spel to arrange lotteries and other gambling games in a responsible way. The rationale for this mission and the monopoly status is that this is deemed to have a positive effect on public health. Providing a more responsible service than foreign companies, Svenska Spel has a mission to keep Swedish gamblers from using those foreign services.

However, many people suspect that the real rationale is purely fiscal - that the Swedish government wants to take a piece of the juicy gambling cake. Also, the responsibility seems, in many ways, to be only reluctantly introduced into the activities of the company, and only to the smallest extent possible in order to fulfill the requirements from the government.

On their website, for instance, Svenska Spel claim to refrain from advertising for "hazardous" games. Poker, for example, is clearly considered such a hazardous game, but still, they do advertise for it. Not only do they target existing poker players with ads for upcoming tournaments and events, but they also engage in external marketing.

A peculiar instance that I saw today, harmless as it may seem, relates to the Lotto game. In the Lotto, a series of 7 numbers ranging from 1 to 35 is drawn. Players choose their own string of numbers prior to the draw, and the number of corresponding numbers between the player's strings and the drawn string are counted. 7 correct numbers gives the grand prize, often making the winners millionaires. Fewer correct numbers give smaller prizes, and usually, less than 4 correct numbers gives no return.

On their website, statistics on the draws can be found. From their website:
In the following statistics, you can see which numbers have been drawn the most and the least frequently in the last half year. The statistics are updated continuously. [...]

Isn't statistics fun? Remember, though, that the choice of numbers is always random. Good luck!
(My translation)

Now, why is this a problem?

Svenska Spel responsibly added a note on the randomness of the draw. You can not, by choosing specific numbers, impact your chances to hit the jackpot. But this is not the implication of the text at large, quite the contrary. Posting those statistics appeals to the Gamblers fallacy and the Texas sharpshooter fallacy (1), encouraging people to vainly try to tinker with their numbers in order to better their chances to win. Encouragement of irrational gambling and providing gamblers with false expectations is not my idea of responsible conduct.

Interestingly, those numbers can be put to constructive use by a gambler free of those fallacies. If used the way contrary to the way that a gambler, subjected to the fallacies, would use them, we can exploit those who use them based on the fallacies. That is, we choose numbers that are less likely to be chosen by other, irrational players. Our winning chances won't increase, but on our occasional wins, we'll have fewer other winners to share the prize pool with.

So, if there's a good use for the numbers, then there's no problem? Wrong. The good use is only possible to the extent that other players are tricked by the numbers.

For the sake of fairness, let's note that, at least, Svenska Spel takes some measures for responsible gaming. They do, if not all they can, at least probably more than most other gaming companies. So the award is probably fair, and I don't mean to contest that. Contrarily, I congratulate Svenska Spel on their award.
(1) In a future entry, there will be more on how the fallacies mentioned relate to the Lotto and those statistics.
External links in this post:
Website of the Swedish government-owned gaming company Svenska Spel

Other references:
Press release on World Lottery Association's website


Anonymous said...

I want to tell a little ”story” about what happened the first time i played at Svenska Spel´s then sparkling new poker site. The story is interesting as there were a lot talk at that time about how this site would keep the Swedish people from those dangerous foreign poker sites (as has been stated in the article above). Other gaming companies uses, as we all know, all kinds of shrewd methods in their desperate efforts to increase their profits. Unlike the other existing sites this one would be responsible and not risk that the users would fall into degenerated gambling.

Svenska Spel´s poker site had been launched just a couple of days ago. I signed up for a account at Svenska Spel and started to downloaded the poker client. Just as I had started the client up and managed to deposited some cash, a window with an interesting question popped up on my screen. Now this responsible company which is so interested in public health and to keep the subjects out of exaggerated gambling wanted to know if I, while being interested in their poker site, maybe also would be interested in gambling some more of my money on their fine online Lotto Game. Indeed they would offer me 4 games at the price of 3 (!).

After staring at this rater unexpected offer for quite some time I silently declined it. At the same time as I started to make myself acquainted with the new poker site I sat thinking of some other doubtful “moves” made by this company. Maybe best to save them for another comment.

Finally I like to point out that I were impressed by SvS´s poker site. They do offer futures like for example letting (and demanding) users to decide how much they want to spend on poker (both time & money). The site also has the quality needed to keep the gamers in their ”safe” environment, as it is at least as good as any other site. The prices or rakes also turned out to be very reasonable, even to a bonus junkie, if you keep out of the tournaments.


Economatheek said...

Thank you, M. That's quite an interesting example. To me, it's clear that Svenska Spel have the same incentives and goals as all other gaming companies, but with the added restrictions by the authorities and the threat of losing their license or their monopoly status. As owners, I highly suspect that the government have the same fiscal incentives and goals as other gaming-company owners, but with the added restrictions by public opinion. If so, the demands on responsible conduct is, to a large extent, for show, and can be negotiated.

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