Despite a poor turnout, Swiss voters have overwhelmingly voted in favor of supporting a new Swiss law designed to block offshore casinos in the Alpine state of 8.3 million people.
On Sunday, a 73% majority of voters came out in support of a contentious new law allowing the government to require ISPs to block offshore casinos from accessing the $700 million Swiss gambling market.
Opponents to the new law, which was pass by the Swiss legislature earlier this year, had argued that it was tantamount to censorship and would set a dangerous precedent for further moves to control the internet on the part of the Swiss government. A coalition of Swiss youth parties which included the Free Democratic Party, the Green Party, the Green Liberal Party and the Swiss People’s Party had collected over 50,000 signatures to force the referendum on the new Money Gaming Act.
The results of the referendum mean that only Swiss casino operators with a brick and mortar presence in the country will be eligible to pick up an online casino license while offshore operators will have their site blocked by Swiss ISPs.
“Voters prefer to continue the current policy, only allowing gambling under restrictions,” Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told a news conference. Justice Minister Sommaruga went on to reassure voters that public support of the new law would not lead to further internet censorship.
Christian Democrat lawmaker Karl Volger, who came out strongly in favor of the new law, told reporters that the vote was a “pragmatic decision by Swiss voters who want to continue funding civil society projects with revenue of the casinos and lotteries.”
Supporters of the law had argued that offshore casinos were able to draw a significant portion of the estimated $1 billion per year the Swiss dedicate to civil society, sports culture and pensions away from the country, under cutting funding for key social programs.
Currently Switzerland has 21 licensed casinos, with brick and mortar casinos alone bringing in over $700 million per year in revenue.
The referendum itself, however, was not without its fair share of controversy.
Both sides of the vote regularly exchanged accusations of undue lobbying in the run up to the referendum.
Parliamentarian Marcel Dobler told Swiss media outlet Tages Anzeiger that he was offered a board seat on one of Switzerland’s exiting brick and mortar casinos in what he considered a blatant attempt to sway his vote in the referendum in favor of the new law.
At the same time, Switzerland’s brick and mortar casino industry accused the coalition of youth leagues against the new law of accepting direct financial support from offshore casino operators interested in maintaining their access to the Swiss online gambling market.
Furthering the controversy, the Swiss Poker Association (SPOV), who had initially come out in opposition to the new law, completely flip-flopped and changed their position to support the law after Casino Lucerne and the Swiss lottery operator Swissloss signed large advertising contracts with SPOV’s website in the run up to the vote.
Despite the heated rhetoric and accusations on both sides, in the end voter turnout was notably low at 34%.
“We may have lost this battle but put the issue of blocked internet sites on the political agenda,” Radical Party parliamentarian Marcel Dobler told public radio SRF.
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