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Scandinavian News

by Joel Hinz |  Published: Jul 01, 2008

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It's been a few months since the last Scandinavian column, and a lot has happened. Firstly, Sweden and Norway both held regional championships.

Regional Championship
Former Card Player writer Ola Brandborn became the most recent Swedish champion when three tournaments were held in Tallinn, Estonia in late April. His main event victory brought him a third title -- the two former came in 1998 (Omaha) and 2002 (Amerikana, a stud game) -- as well as roughly €100,000. Birgitta Johansson and Micke Norinder won the other two events, five-card draw and pot-limit Omaha. Interestingly, the five-card draw event is being revived as the Swedish Poker Federation tries to gain exclusive rights to the Poker-SM (Swedish Poker Championship) trademark and needs to prove that the tournaments they're running are direct successors of the championships held regularly since 1975. Optimism is, to be fair, scarce, but it's commonly agreed in Sweden that the current situation, with two mutually exclusive championships and a national federation unable by law to cooperate with both casinos and sponsors, is absurd and needs to be resolved.

Just as the Swedish dust settled in Estonia, the Norwegian poker elite flew to Nottingham in order to play out their own, seventh, national championships. After beating Sweden's Marcus Pettersson's A-3 with A-9, Stig Rune Kveen won the main event. In total, four national events and a few minor ones were held, with titles and bragging rights going to Daniel Hersvik (limit hold'em), Rolf Galåsen (pot-limit Omaha), and Torstein Iversen (£2,500 H.O.R.S.E.). Arranging the tournaments in the UK meant that non-Norwegians couldn't be excluded, causing some confusion, as David Penly of England won the Omaha event, with Galåsen being the official champion. The same was true all week; after day one of the main event, Julian Thew, who isn't known for being very Norwegian in particular, held the chip lead.

Legal Status of Poker
The situation of foreigners being able to partake in the Norwegian nationals is not new, however. As police raids grew more common, tournaments were moved out-of-country as a precaution, twice to Sweden. The first year this was tried, Casino Cosmopol in Sweden hosted the tournaments. An even more absurd arrangement, as they weren't allowed to hold Swedish championships at the time! But the Norwegians simply bought all tickets they could find to a normal Cosmopol tournament,
called it their Championship, and sold the tickets to interested countrymen. This is not allowed in Sweden anymore, and maybe the Norwegians prefer it that way; as they couldn't get their hands on all seats, they found themselves in the predicament of risking having a Swedish man win the ladies event of the Norwegian Championship.

Similarly, Swedes have been going on pilgrimage to Estonia two years in a row now, as the risk of the police, eagerly aided by the lottery inspection department, paying a visit to an illegally held tournament is simply too big. This is surely a result of the poker boom, as are the competing championships arranged by Cosmopol. Now, the Swedish casinos are run by competent staff who realise that they'd rather hold the event in conjunction with the poker federation, but that would mean that no other poker sites would be able to send satellite winners to the championship. Not that they'd want to, anyway, since players cannot wear sponsors' clothing. The problem here is one of changing laws, not the minds of the casino management, but it does not appear to have an immediate solution, if any at all.

One of these aforementioned Swedish raids, in Grebbestad outside of Gothenburg roughly a year ago, was recently concluded by a district court, although both sides are likely to appeal. The court reaffirmed that arranging poker tournaments in Sweden is not legal (although playing is), and neither is lending or renting out premises to host the event. As a result, the two accused organisers and the two representatives of the hotel where the tournaments was held were all convicted, with the two former going to prison for six months each, and the two latter being fined. Representatives of the sponsoring poker site 24hPoker were both acquitted, although the court hints in the verdict that more lenient charges might lead to a conviction in the high court. The question of whether poker is a game of skill or luck was not on trial.

Scandinavian Poker and the EU
Speaking of laws, regular readers of Card Player are sure to know about the protectionist stance taken by several union members (Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, France, and Italy most notably) in monopoly issues, as well as the counter-measures taken by Internal Market and Services Commissioner and Irish poker player Charlie McCreevy. Currently, there is no Nordic country without a state gambling monopoly, although Danish courts may, as has been reported in this column earlier, be resolving the issue of tournaments in Denmark. The Swedish government is desperately trying to defend its monopoly, and Norway might even try to enforce a law similar to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in the U.S. Not being members of the EU, they are being questioned by the European Free Trade Association instead, and the issue is currently unsolved.

The Finnish government, however, might be trying a very smart solution to the problem of both having and eating the gambling cake. As EU members, the Finns realized that about a quarter of the member countries are currently facing the Court of Justice or on the verge of being forced there because of protectionist gambling laws, so they devised a new law that allows poker sites to operate in Finland but also forces them to pay back losses to problem gamblers. This law, the feasibility of which is currently being researched, might make foreign operators exclude Finns themselves, without the government having to lift a finger and as an added bonus, there won't be any angry EU commissioners in sight, or so the argument goes.

Joel Hinz is a freelance poker journalist.