Gambling is a popular pastime in Switzerland. The betting offices which are a standard feature of shopping districts in many countries seem to have given Swiss towns a pass, but lottery tickets are flagged at kiosks and post offices country-wide. Swiss casinos had a combined turnover of 689,7 million Swiss francs in 2016 – and year-on-year revenues have been trending upward. The Internet has opened up whole new frontiers in gambling, with (primarily foreign) betting services and online casinos now permanently available at the tap of a phone screen.
Whether you prefer to suit up and head to a casino or place a few bets online on your way to work, it is crucial that you understand how paying with a credit card can affect your gambling budget.
1. Foreign transaction fees. If you make use of gambling websites or apps, most of which are run by companies domiciled outside of Switzerland, then you should note that all Swiss credit cards charge foreign transaction fees. Depending on the credit card you use, the fee for transactions outside of Switzerland ranges from the equivalent of 1.2% to 2.5% of each transaction made. In addition to foreign online gambling services, foreign transaction fees also apply to payments at casinos, betting offices and lottery ticket retailers outside of Switzerland.
2. Currency exchange spreads. While the foreign transaction fee is clearly stated and easy to calculate, the markup or “spread” added to currency exchange rates by issuers change regularly (sometimes several times per day), making it nearly impossible to calculate ahead of time. In many cases, the spread can add an extra cost similar to that of foreign transaction fees. Spreads are applied every time you use your credit card to pay for gambling outside of Switzerland or on foreign apps and websites.
3. Gambling fees. Some (but not all) Swiss credit card issuers charge additional fees when you use your credit card to pay for gambling services. This fee is typically equal to the cash advance fee which you pay when you withdraw money at ATMs using your credit card. This can easily add a cost equal to 3% or 4% of the amount you spend. Issuers who charge this fee often have a minimum fee for each gambling transaction. If you use one of these credit cards to pay for small transactions (lottery tickets or low-cost betting positions, for example), these minimum fees can be as high as the cost of the gambling service itself. If you make multiple, small transactions, as is often the case with gambling apps and websites that charge on a per-game basis, the cost of combined minimum fees can be significant.
Swiss issuers which charge gambling fees:
Swisscard (Coop Supercard Plus, Credit Suisse, American Express): Lottery, betting and casino transactions are categorized as international cash advances so you pay an identical fee to the one which you pay when you withdraw money at ATMs outside of Switzerland. This fee is shown under “Cash withdrawal abroad” on the info page of each credit card listed in the moneyland.ch credit card comparison.
UBS: Lottery (excluding Swisslos and Loterie Romande), betting and casino transactions are subject to a gambling fee identical to the cash withdrawal fee of your UBS credit card, with the difference being that the maximum gambling fee you will be charged for one transaction is 100 francs. The maximum fee you will be charged for cash advances is 10 francs per ATM withdrawal.
Bonus Card (including Libertycard): The fee for lottery (excluding Swisslos and Loterie Romande), casino and betting transactions is almost identical to the cash advance fee. However, the minimum fees which apply to cash withdrawals (5 francs in Switzerland, 10 francs abroad) do not apply to gambling.
Cornèrcard: The fee for casino, betting and lottery (excluding Swisslos) transactions is identical to the cash advance fee.
Swiss issuers which do not charge gambling fees:
Cembra Money Bank (Migros Cumulus Mastercard): Cembra Money Bank does not charge a special fee when its credit cards are used for casino, betting or lottery transactions.
Postfinance: The Swiss postal bank’s credit cards do not have an extra fee for lottery, casino and betting transactions.
Viseca (cantonal banks, Raiffeisen banks): Viseca does not charge an additional fee for casino, betting and lottery transactions.
4. No rewards. No matter which Swiss credit card you use, you will not earn points, miles or cash back on purchases which are categorized as gambling.
For many reasons, using credit cards for gambling transactions is not recommended. The fact that you can potentially spend money which you do not have is the most obvious drawback. The potentially addictive nature of gaming is another. Make a point of leaving your credit card at home when you visit casinos, racetracks, betting offices and other gambling locations. Carrying a limited amount of cash with you will help you avoid gambling with more money than you can afford to lose.
If you gamble online, using cash is not normally an option. But entrusting your credit card information to an online gambling service is risky. While there are legitimate businesses which offer online gambling services and apps, the Internet hosts many illegitimate gambling websites and numerous scams. Even legitimate gambling services are not completely secure, as these may be targeted by hackers which could result in your credit card information being stolen.
Using alternative payment methods like bank transfers not only protects your credit card information – it also helps you avoid paying credit card fees and prevents you from gambling with borrowed money.
While prepaid cards help you limit spending, the fees charged are identical to those of credit cards. Using a prepaid card from an issuer which does not charge a gambling fee can be a good alternative to using a credit card, as most merchants accept these in place of credit cards.
Swiss credit card and prepaid card comparison
Swiss credit cards: foreign transaction fees
Markups for credit card payments
Foreign currency credit cards – can they save you money?