The government of Norway recently came under fire for its ties to gambling companies.
Norway has one of the largest pension funds in the world. The Norwegian government has stated it bought gambling stocks as a way to make sure it diversifies the fund. However, the country is undergoing a rigorous reflection on its policies. Many political parties believe the government has no business buying stock in companies that may contribute to addiction. Other politicians believe the government has a right to make sound investments.
Gambling in Norway
Interestingly, although the country has invested in gambling stocks, it doesn’t allow much gambling. There are only two companies that can offer gambling services to Norwegians. One company handles lotteries, keno, and sports betting. The other has some casino gambling ventures, as well as horse racing.
While some Norwegians play the state-sanctioned online games, others try to play sites from other countries. As a way to limit that activity, the Norwegian government passed a law in 2010. It prevented Norwegian banks from authorizing card purchases at online casinos and land casinos in other countries.
The Government Pension Fund Global
The Government Pension Fund Global, called the oil fund, began in 1990. Its purpose was to invest revenue from oil and gas. In the 1970s, there had been some talk about investing in a fund like this. At that time, oil prices were fluctuating wildly. Norway wanted the ability to mitigate the effects of declining revenue and the eventual decline in the oilfields themselves. Today, the oil fund is worth about $200,000 per Norwegian citizen. The fund managers heavily invest in businesses outside of Norway. The reason they do this is to make sure the fund operates independently of the country’s finances.
The oil fund has invested in more than 9,000 companies in more than 73 markets around the world. The oil fund investments are mostly in three areas: bonds, real estate, and equity.
A recent series of articles labeled the oil fund as controversial. One of the national newspapers, Aftenposten, reported the country has stocks in more than 60 different gambling companies worldwide. The companies include major U.S. casino companies: MGM Resorts, Caesar’s Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts. These companies alone make billions of dollars each year in revenue in the U.S. and Macau. Norway has stock in three of the largest bet shops in the United Kingdom as well. They are William Hill, Ladbrokes, and Flutter Entertainment, formerly Paddy Power Betfair. The British online gambling companies – Betsson and 888Holdings — are also represented in the portfolio. In fact, the total amount of investment in gambling companies by the fund represented more than $3 billion in 2018.
The conversation has become all the more strident in Norway because of the government’s crackdown on gambling nationwide. Two of the largest parties in Norway are the Labor Party and the Christian Democratic Party. The parties have argued they would like to have the oil fund divest itself of the stocks. Or, they want Norwegians to have greater freedom to gamble.
The political parties have also pointed out the hypocrisy of the fund. The oil fund cannot invest in any companies that sell guns or military equipment, coal, and tobacco. However, gambling companies are not on the list. The parties plan to ask again for the fund to divest itself from gambling companies at a meeting in mid-June. However, in Norway, the consensus is that regulators will reject the criticism. They will continue to invest in the fund until gambling is no longer a moneymaker. At this point, buying stocks and bonds in gambling is profitable.
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