General legal framework

Legal definition of ‘gambling’

What are the legal elements required for an activity to be regarded as gambling?

In Switzerland, the gambling sectors (casino sector, large-scale games and small-scale games) are regulated by the Money Gaming Act (MGA), which entered into force on 1 January 2019.

Article 3 of the MGA defines gambling activities as follows:

 

  • money games: games in which a cash prize or other monetary advantage is expected in exchange for a pecuniary stake or the conclusion of a legal transaction (article 3, lit. a);
  • lotteries: money games open to an unlimited number of persons, or at least a large number, in which the result is determined by the same random drawing or by a similar procedure (article 3, lit. b);
  • sports betting: money games in which the winnings depend on the correct prediction of the course or outcome of a sports event (article 3, lit. c);
  • skill games: money games in which the winnings depend entirely or mainly on the skill of the player (article 3, lit. d);
  • large games: lotteries, sports betting and skill games, each of which can be automated, intercantonal or online (article 3, lit. e);
  • small games: lotteries, sports betting and poker tournaments that are neither automated nor intercantonal nor online (small lotteries, local sports betting, small poker tournaments) (article 3, lit. f); and
  • casino games: money games open to a limited number of persons, with the exception of sports betting, skill games and small games (article 3, lit. g).
Remote activity

With respect to remote or other cross-border activity, where is the wager deemed to take place?

Organising online gambling services is deemed to take place at the place of the organising activities, for example:

 

  • operating a gaming server;
  • processing certain financial transactions in connection with online gambling;
  • advertising or marketing for online games (also hypertext linking); and
  • management or financing of online gambling.

 

According to the MGA, only Swiss casinos can extend their land-based licence and legally offer online gambling services in Switzerland.

Using online gambling services, that is, placing a bet or playing online casino games, is deemed to take place at the location of the player at the time of placing the bet or playing the game. Swiss players can legally play on Swiss gambling websites.

Age restrictions

What is the minimum age for participating in lawful gambling?

Minors (under 18 years of age) are not permitted to play casino games or large-scale online games.

For other large games, the intercantonal authority decides on the age of participation depending on the potential risk of a game (article 72 of the MGA). Participation under the age of 16 is prohibited in any case.

Penalties

What are the penalties for offering unlawful gambling?

Offering unlawful gambling is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a fine and in cases of commercial conduct, imprisonment of up to five years and fine not under 180 daily rates (the rates depend on the income of the convicted person; article 130 of the MGA).

Activities such as advertising illegal gambling, providing gambling services to blocked persons or fiscal delicts are punishable with a fine of up to 500,000 Swiss francs (article 131 of the MGA).

Websites of foreign gaming providers that offer their services to players based in Switzerland can be IP-blocked and the provider will be listed on a public blacklist (article 86 of the MGA).

Does the law penalise the gambler directly for participating in unlawful gambling?

Using the services of online gambling operators is not illegal; that is, Swiss players accessing foreign online casinos do not risk criminal sanctions.

Social and non-profit gambling

Are there exceptions for social gambling, or charitable or non-profit gambling?

Yes. As long as these activities are not conducted intercantonal or online, cantonal law applies. A licence is not always required.

Regulatory authorities

What entity regulates land-based and remote gambling, and what are the regulator’s powers?

The Swiss Federal Gaming Board (SFGB) is the supervisory authority for casinos and online casino games and monitors compliance with casino law and licensing requirements. In particular, it monitors that the games are operated securely and transparently and that the regulations on combating money laundering and terrorist financing are complied with. It also ensures that the measures of the security concept and the social concept are implemented in order to adequately protect the population from the dangers posed by money games. The SFGB is also the competent authority for the assessment and payment of casino tax. It is also responsible for prosecuting illegal gambling by setting up an access barrier for illegal online offers and by prosecuting crimes against illegal gambling. The SFGB is independent. Administratively, it is assigned to the Federal Department of Justice and Police of Switzerland.

The intercantonal authority (Comlot) is responsible for the organisation and supervision of large games, while the cantonal authorities are responsible for the organisation and supervision of small games.

All authorities have administrative powers to ensure safe gambling and to combat illegal gambling.

Anti-money-laundering regulations

Are gambling licensees considered financial institutions for purposes of anti-money-laundering and similar financial services regulatory requirements or are they otherwise subject to such requirements?

According to article 67 of the MGA, the Federal Act of Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (AMLA) applies to any gambling operators as well. Furthermore, casinos are considered as financial intermediaries. Financial intermediaries under AMLA must comply with different duties of AML due diligence. In addition, casinos must report any suspicion of money laundering immediately and respect the criminal provisions of AMLA. Lottery companies are not yet considered financial intermediaries.

Land-based gambling

Types

What types of land-based gambling are permitted in your jurisdiction, and is gambling regulated at a national or subnational level?

Land-based casinos can be operated by private corporate actors. Casinos usually offer games such as slot machines, roulette, blackjack and poker. However, a licence is required for the operation of a facility (such as a casino). The casino licensing regime is regulated by the Money Gaming Act (MGA). The MGA differentiates between two different types of casino licences in terms of the possible types of games of chance to be offered, the winnings and the maximum number of slot machines as follows:

 

  • A-type licenced casinos are casinos with no limits in stakes and may offer 14 different table games with unlimited stakes, jackpots and maximum winnings at all slot machines. An A-type casino is only allowed in an area with a population of at least 1 million people.
  • B-type licenced casinos are usually spa or resort casinos, with a maximum of three kinds of table games and limited stakes, jackpots and maximum winnings at all slot machines. The maximum number of gambling tables operated per casino is three. The number of slot machines is limited to 250. While for A-type casinos there are no limitations as per the maximum stake, the limit per stake in B-type casinos is 25 Swiss francs and the maximum jackpot offered is 25,000 Swiss francs.

 

Casinos with a terrestrial licence can apply for an extension of their licence to offer online gambling services. Under the old laws, only the state-owned Swisslos and Loterie Romande have obtained the necessary licences for betting and lottery services. This has not changed under the MGA; the lottery and betting duopoly continues to exist.

Establishment licensing

Please describe the licensing criteria to operate land-based gambling of each type or classification. Does your jurisdiction limit the number of available licences?

Casino licence

 

Licences for land-based gambling can only be granted in the following circumstances:

 

  • the applicant:
    • is a public limited company under Swiss law and its share capital is divided into registered shares;
    • presents a safety concept and a social concept;
    • submits economic viability calculations showing that the casino is economically viable;
    • sets out the measures to be taken to create the conditions for the proper assessment of the casino levy; or
    • presents the economic benefits of the casino for the siting region in a report;
  • the applicant and its most important business partners as well as the beneficial owners of the shares and the beneficial owners of the shares:
    • enjoy a good reputation; or
    • provide assurance of proper business operations and independent management;
  • the applicant and the holders of units and the beneficial owners of the units and, at the request of Swiss Federal Gaming Board (SFGB), the most important business partners have sufficient own funds and can prove the legal origin of the funds available;
  • the statutes, the organisational structure and procedures and the contractual obligations guarantee the proper and independent conduct of the casino’s business; and
  • the canton and municipality in which the location is situated should support the operation of a casino.

 

The Swiss Federal Council decides on the number of casino licences available, and also defines the geographical locations of the casinos. To date, there are 21 licensed casinos in Switzerland.

 

License for large games

 

Comlot grants the licences for large games organisers. According to article 22 of the MGA, the operator must meet the following requirements for an intercantonal licence:

 

  • a legal person under Swiss law;
  • has a good reputation;
  • presents its economic situation;
  • discloses any financial or other investments in other companies;
  • proves the lawful origin of the funds available;
  • guarantees an impeccable management and its external independence;
  • has sufficient funds and guarantees that the winnings will be paid out to the players;
  • has a safety and a social concept; and
  • ensures that operating costs, in particular advertising and wages, are proportionate to the resources made available for charitable purposes.

 

However, according to article 23 of the MGA and current practice, only Swisslos and Loterie Romande are licensed to provide intercantonal lottery and sports betting services. Additional licences are not foreseen.

 

License for small games

 

Small games operators can submit their application for a cantonal licence to the respective cantonal authority.

Director, officer and owner licensing

Must individual directors, officers or owners of licensees also be licensed or reviewed for suitability?

The licence is issued to the casino operator (corporate entity). Individuals such as the applicant, the most important business partners as well as the beneficial owners of the shares from the corporate entity must demonstrate their good reputation and proper business conduct, in accordance with article 8 lit. b of the MGA.

 

Location

May a gambling location be part of a resort, restaurant or other multi-purpose location? What limitations apply?

Yes. There are no special regulations.

Casino development

What considerations arise in developing a casino resort project that are not typical to other resort development?

No, there are no special zones for casinos. Casinos must nevertheless be distributed evenly across regions.

Passive/institutional ownership

Are there provisions for passive or institutional ownership that allow for exemption or modification of licensing requirements?

No.

Responsible gambling

What responsible gambling obligations apply to licensees?

The following persons are subject to a general ban on land-based gambling, according to article 52 of the MGA:

 

  • persons under 18 years of age;
  • persons who are suspended from casinos;
  • board members or members of the SFGB;
  • casino employees who are involved in the daily business;
  • members of the board of directors and management of companies manufacturing or trading gaming equipment; and
  • members of the board of directors of casinos.

 

Each casino and organiser of large-scale games must have a social concept (article 76 of the MGA). Furthermore, organisers must be obliged to take appropriate measures to protect players from excessive gambling. The measures are based on the risk potential of the casino game in question. Players who are insolvent or fail to meet their financial obligations must be blocked from casino gaming operations. The same applies to players who risk wagers that are disproportionate compared with their income or their assets, as well as players who negatively affect the operation of a casino. In its assessment, the casino may rely on the available data and assumptions but is not allowed to investigate a player’s financial circumstances. In addition, the player may also apply for self-blockage. The casino must register the blocked players and notify all of the other casinos in Switzerland. However, the blockage must be cancelled as soon as the reason for the blockage has ceased to exist. Finally, casinos are not allowed to grant loans or advances to players.

In short, the social protection regulations and conditions of accreditation fall into the following categories of effective prevention of problem gambling and gambling addiction:

 

  • information on gambling addiction and responsible gambling;
  • early diagnosis of at-risk individuals;
  • staff training and awareness-raising (organisers and sales outlets);
  • product concepts and designs that mitigate risk;
  • restrictions in terms of age, access and stakes;
  • imposition of bans; and
  • supervision of the implementation and impact of social protection regulations.
Taxes

What type of tax and what tax rate applies to each form of lawful land-based gambling activity?

Terrestrial casinos

 

Casinos

 

In accordance with the Swiss Constitution, casinos are subject to tax based on their gross gambling revenues. The tax rate can vary from between 40 per cent and 80 per cent of gross gaming revenues, but casinos can request a reduction in the rate in the case of exceptional economic conditions. Generally, casinos pay 40 per cent tax on gross revenues up to 10 million Swiss francs. If gross revenues exceed this sum, the tax rate rises by 0.5 per cent for every million Swiss francs. The federal government can change the current level of taxation rates up to 80 per cent (article 120 of the MGA and article 114 of the Money Gaming Ordinance (MGO)).

 

Players

 

For the players, casino winnings are free of individual taxes if the gains result from licensed Swiss casinos. In contrast, gains from non-permitted casino games are not tax exempt but subject to income tax. For winnings from large-scale games (automated or intercantonal games; eg, lotteries and sports betting such as Swiss Lotto, EuroMillions, Swisslos etc), a tax exemption of 1 million Swiss francs is granted. Winnings of more than 1 million Swiss francs are subject to withholding and income tax at the federal level if the gambling activity is performed in Switzerland. The withholding tax amount is subtracted automatically when the betting or lottery winnings are paid out. However, it can then be reclaimed by the player if the winnings are declared as taxable income on their individual tax return. Applicable tax rates vary substantially depending on total income and residence. Winnings from small games (not automated, not carried out online and not intercantonal; eg, lottery gymnastics clubs, local sports bets, small poker tournaments) are tax-free insofar as they are permitted under the MGA.

Lotteries and skill games for sales promotion are tax-free up to 1,000 Swiss francs (tax exemption limit).

Profits from illegal or unauthorised games are subject to income tax, but not to withholding tax. Depending on the canton, different tax-free amounts and deductions may apply. Applicable tax rates vary substantially depending on total income and residence.

 

Operators

 

Cantons use the net winnings from lotteries and sports betting entirely for charitable purposes, namely in the areas of culture, social affairs and sport (article 125 of the MGA).

Remote gambling

Types

Is remote gambling permitted and, if so, what types?

Remote gambling is permitted in Switzerland, if their provider is licensed. Only Swiss casinos already in possession of a land-based licence can receive such a licence.

Licensing

What are the criteria for obtaining a licence to operate remote gambling?

The federal council grants the online licence, if the requirements according to article 8 of the Money Gaming Act (MGA) (except location requirements) are fulfilled.

How do the licensing criteria for remote gambling operators differ from those applicable to land-based operators?

An existing licence can be extended by an online licence. In this respect the criteria are identical.

Cross-border gambling

May operators located in other countries offer internet gambling to consumers in your jurisdiction without obtaining a licence there?

Foreign providers offering online gaming in Switzerland have been excluded from the Swiss market since 1 July 2019 by the introduction of technical blocking measures to be implemented by internet access providers (article 86 of the MGA).

May operators licensed in your jurisdiction offer internet gambling to consumers in other countries?

No. Access to an online cash games offer requires a player account. According to article 47 of the Money Gaming Ordinance (MGO), a player account is only opened if the player is resident in Switzerland.

Taxes

What tax rate applies to each form of remote gambling?

Casinos

 

The basic tax rate is 20 per cent, up to a gross revenues of 3 million Swiss francs. If the gross gaming revenues exceed this sum, the tax rate rises to the maximum rate of 80 per cent (article 120 of the MGA and article 115 of the MGO).

 Players

 

Winnings from licensed online gambling is tax free up to 1 million Swiss francs. Winnings above 1 million Swiss francs are subject to withholding and income tax.

Intellectual property

Patents

Are gambling games – land-based or remote – patentable in your jurisdiction?

Principally yes, if the respective game qualifies as a novel technical innovation that can be applied commercially and is not obvious to a person skilled in the art.

Trademarks

Are there limitations on how brands, logos or other types of marks may be used in promoting gambling games?

No, as long as the advertising is not in an intrusive or misleading manner. Furthermore, the advertising may not be directed at minors or blocked persons (article 74 of the Money Gaming Act).

Advertising

Restrictions

What types of restrictions apply to advertising gambling games?

Promotion of legal gambling activities (for or from operators holding a Swiss licence) is not illegal. However, advertisements must not be misleading and directed to minors or blocked persons (article 74 of the Money Gaming Act).

Suppliers

Licensing

What types of suppliers to gambling operators require licences?

There is no licence requirement for suppliers. However, suppliers and games must be International Standards Organisation certified.

Registration

If licensing is not required, is there a registration or other process suppliers are subject to, and what triggers that process?

See 'What types of suppliers to gambling operators require licences?'.

Labour and employment

Wage and hour rules

Are there particular rules governing hours and wage treatment for casino employees?

Employees of casinos are generally subject to the Labour Code and the Swiss Civil Code. The Code regulates regulations regarding overtime, weekend work, etc.

Collective labour

Must casino employees be members of labour unions or similar organisations?

No.

Acquisitions and changes of control

Change of control

How are licensee changes of control, and substantial changes in shareholdings of licensees, addressed?

The licence is issued on the basis of the information provided to the Swiss Federal Gaming Board by the licensee. Depending on the importance of the participation, a change must be reported or approved in advance.

Bankruptcy

How are gambling licences treated in bankruptcy?

Swiss bankruptcy law is applicable.

Quasi-gambling

Regulation

How are forms of ‘quasi-gambling’ regulated? Are any treated as ‘gambling’, and what triggers such treatment?

Switzerland does not have a special regulatory regime for ‘quasi-gambling’ such as social gambling. Instead, a case-by-case approach is used to decide whether a specific service qualifies as a large, small or casino game under the Money Gaming Act (MGA).

Licensing

Does your jurisdiction license quasi-gambling operators?

As long as the game is not qualified as a money game according to article 3 of the MGA, it will not require a licence. If the prerequisites are met for a money game, then the general gambling licence rules apply.

Other restrictions

Does your jurisdiction impose other restrictions on the conduct of quasi-gambling activity, including restrictions on advertising, age of participation, limitations on prizes, etc?

There are no specific regulations for quasi-gambling.

Litigation

Recent cases

What, if any, significant litigation involving the gambling or quasi-gambling sectors has your jurisdiction seen in recent years?

Since the Money Gaming Act entered into force on 1 January 2019, there is no case law. Pending are proceedings by foreign providers of online games that have been blocked from the Swiss market.

Update and trends

Key developments of the past year

Highlight any noteworthy developments or trends in the gambling or quasi-gambling sectors (legal or business) and their potential implications.

Foreign online games providers have been banned from the Swiss market. In return, some Swiss casinos have extended their licence to offer online money games.