Gambling Epidemic Clouds Over Iceland - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Gambling Epidemic Clouds Over Iceland

Published November 26, 2019

Inês Pereira
Photo by
Wikimedia Commons

An Icelandic man has come forward to the European Court of Human Rights for considering he was discriminated against by the Icelandic state concerning his gambling addiction. The court decided to take the complainant’s case, Guðlaugur Jakob Karlsson, who told Vísir he wants Iceland to fully ban gambling.

Casinos and professional gambling are illegal in Iceland. However, in 1994, The University of Iceland and Íslandsspil were made exempt to operate a national lottery and slot machines. Íslandsspil is authorised to operate all electronic gaming machines. All the proceeds of the operations go to three non-governmental organisations that own Íslandsspil: the Red Cross (64%), The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (26.5%) and the National Center of Addiction Medicine (9.5%). The lottery also helps the university with funding for their activities.

Since this exception was made, gambling has been a public and political subject. The Progressive Party headed a campaign for the legalisation of gambling in 2014, when MP Willum Þór Þórsson submitted a bill to parliament that, if passed, would have legalised gambling in Iceland. There was surely a concern with the sprouting of illegal casinos around the country, but a lot of private interests were also at stake. Before and since then, reports have been warning Icelanders that an epidemic was on the rise.

“This is a national issue,” Guðlaugur’s lawyer, Þórður Sveinsson, told Vísir. “Access to slot machines needs to be reduced”. His client is said to have spent 29 million ISK in slot games and believes that this is a matter of human rights. “When he enters the casino, he loses all control over his actions and does not quit until he has lost all the money,” Þórður says.

According to Parliament’s official site, slot machine revenue grew to 12.2 billion ISK in the year of 2018, increasing in over 2 million ISK since 2015. “This is a huge problem. It is being talked about that these are in the range of 10,000 to 14,000 people who are addicted to gambling,” warns Þórður.

In 2018 RÚV reported that around 2,000 Icelanders suffered from a severe gambling addiction and even more experienced some type of lighter addiction related to it. In 2014 The Grapevine reported that, according to a poll from Market and Media Search, Icelanders were widely against the legalisation. There were of course exceptions, with men aged 18 to 29 or 30 to 49 being the group most in favour of casinos.

Guðlaugur Jakob Karlsson feels that the Icelandic state didn’t think of his gambling addiction as a condition to be considered. He tells Vísir that he just hopes for at least better monitoring of these behaviours. Right now, he believes, there is no monitoring is happening at all.

The Grapevine spent a day in one of these arcades, back in 2013 in “Money for Nothing”. We went through all the questions you might have about the subject of gambling in Iceland.

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