Kindred Group Must Exit Norway’s Gambling Market After Court Ruling

The conflict between the Norwegian Gambling Authority (NGA) and Trannel International, a subsidiary of Kindred Group, has been mounting for several years now. The NGA, which supervises and controls all private and state-run gambling operations in Norway, has had it in for Trannel for years now.

According to the NGA, only 2 entities are permitted to operate in Norway’s gambling market, namely, state-owned Norsk Tipping, as well as private trust Norsk Rikstoto. Therefore, since Trannel has accessibility to Norwegian punters, its services have been deemed illegal by NGA for years now.

In 2019, the NGA finally issued an order requiring Trannel to cease operating in Norway- an order that was considered ‘unlawful’. As a result, Trannel’s appealed against the 2019 order and the appeal has been under review by Norwegian courts since. 

According to Trannel, it is not illegal for Norwegian customers to access and partake in cross-border offerings and services including Trannel’s. This fundamental difference in the interpretation of the country’s gambling laws is what essentially laid the foundation for the legal battle that has ensued over the last few years.

By February 2020, tensions between the NGA and Trannel had reached boiling point. In 2020, the NGA issued a notice to the Kindred Subsidiary, warning of possible fines for non-compliance with its 2019 order. In response, Kindred, the parent company of Trannel, published a statement on its website strongly disapproving of the Norwegian regulatory framework and the treatment that Trannel had received since its launch in the market.

Kindred argued that the lack of transparent and objective licensing, along with inconsistencies in the system, had continually undermined the NGA’s main focus, which has always been safeguarding the interests of gamblers in Norway.

In a move to challenge the NGAs 2019 order, Kindred filed an appeal against the decision to bar services. Unfortunately, the Oslo District Court rejected this appeal thus dealing a blow to Kindred’s position.

Despite the setback, Kindred remained unwavering and expressed its decision to keep disputing the order from the NGA. Kindred believes in offering Norwegian punters a free, competitive, transparent, and safe gambling environment

Kindred now ordered to exit the market

After filing a case against Tranel International over 5 years ago for offering illegal gambling services in the country, it now appears that the court has reverted to its original judgment, therefore putting an end to the 5-year legal dispute between both sides.

After failing to observe the desist orders issued by Norway’s gambling authority, Lottstift, the regulator issued a warning that Trannel would face daily coercive fines. These daily fines of NOK 1.2 million (€120,000) were essentially designed to push them out of the market.

The NGA had offered to suspend the daily fines on the condition that Trannel agreed to meet specific requirements. This decision to suspend the daily fine was, in part, motivated by Trannel’s willingness to observe Norwegian law. According to Henrik Nordal, Director of the NGA, had Trannel cooperated with the regulator, the fine will not be enforced until the appeal is resolved.

The NGA laid out a few conditions that Trannel had to fulfill including the removal of Norwegian-targeted online casino websites, as well as the termination of the Norwegian language in all Trannel’s marketing activities. The Kindred subsidiary was also required to ensure the prohibition of customer information on avoiding Norwegian payment processing restrictions. Compliance with these conditions would have determined whether the NGA enforces the daily fine or not. 

Kindred’s Response

In response to NGA’s demands, Kindred expressed disagreement with the regulator’s position and maintained its attitude that Norwegian residents have always had the legal right to access and utilize betting services licensed within the EU/EEA area, including Trannel’s. 

Trannel International is in charge of several recognized gambling brands including Storspiller, Unibet, Bingo.com, and MariaCasino which were all ordered by Lottstift to withdraw from Norway at the beginning of 2022. Kindred asserted that a locally licensed betting market, supervised by competent authorities, is the ideal solution for all stakeholders involved.

It is worth noting that while Kindred did comply with NGA’s order and actively ceased targeting Norwegian gamblers, it indicated that it did not plan to shut down its sites entirely. Instead, Kindred aimed to foster a constructive and transparent dialogue with state authorities and policy stakeholders by amending its services and offers.

The €100,000 fine that the NGA had initially issued to Trannel for operating in the country illegally was supposed to kick in last year starting in December. As such, it still remains unclear how much Trannel International will end up paying the NGA after failing to comply with all its demands.

In support of the NGA, the Borgarting Court of Appeal also ordered Kindred to pay all legal fees incurred by the NGA during this  5-year litigation process. According to the NGA, the Borgarting Court of Appeal’s support will serve as a strong message to any operators offering gambling services and products illegally.

What’s the future of online gambling in Norway?

The 5-year battle between the NGA and Trannel International highlights the multifaceted nature of online gambling regulation in Norway. To this day, Norway remains one of the few remaining European countries that monopolize gambling. Lottery Norsk Tipping is the only entity permitted to offer online casino gaming while Norsk Rikstoto enjoys exclusive rights to accept wagers on horse racing.

Last year, the state extended Norsk Rikstoto’s monopoly for an additional 10 years when the government announced that the entity’s license had been extended until the end of 2032. Norway’s strict monopoly model and its persistence in maintaining control over the market have, therefore, always clashed with the ideologies of the EU/EEA’s free movement of services.

Final Thoughts

The struggle between the NGA and Trannel International is a testament to the intricacies surrounding the regulation of online gambling in Norway. The clash between Norway’s strict gambling monopoly model and the ideologies of the free movement of services within the EU/EEA is what fuelled this 5-year dispute. 

Now that Trannel has been forced to exit the market, this outcome will no doubt have substantial implications for the future of online gambling in Norway, as well as the potential progress of the regulatory framework.

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