Will Finland Follow in Sweden’s Footsteps?

The Finnish government is now reforming the existing Act on Lotteries. Having encouraged gambling in the country from the 1920s, the government would probably leave the Act on Lotteries as it is now, were not Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) to complain about gambling addiction among Finnish players. Alarmed by people's obsessive gambling, the THL would want all Finnish citizens to install some software on their computers and block online casinos, but, in love with gaming, Finns would never agree to these drastic measures.

Nor would the Finnish government. The state-owned national betting agency Veikkaus gives about €1 billion in profit to government ministries and more than €200 million in taxes. This constitutes nearly 2-percent of the Finnish government's budget. Losing this amount of money would be unwise. Yet the Finnish government still promised to make gaming regulation stricter in the country. There are rumors that players will be asked to open a Veikkaus's gaming account and show their IDs when playing slot machines or entering land-based casinos. Because no amendment will be made in Finland's Act on Lotteries before 2023, the government's reformatory intentions still remain only tentative.

Denied clarity, many people are wondering whether Finland will follow in Sweden's footsteps and will renounce its gambling monopoly, allowing companies to operate on a license-base. A comparison with Sweden seems justified. Not only are the two countries neighbors, but the very beginning of the Finnish gambling is inseparably interwoven with Sweden. In the 1920s, when gambling was outlawed in Finland, Finns were betting in Sweden, where casinos were legal. The Finnish government, however, soon realized that leaving money in Sweden was damaging to the Finnish economy. Hence, it immediately legalized lotteries and horse betting in Finland and began to encourage Finns to visit casinos, promoting gambling as their civic duty.

Before 2019, Finnish and Sweden also had similar gambling markets. Both had the government monopoly on gambling. Just as now Veikkaus is Finland's state gambling monopoly, so was the government-owned Svenska Spel in Sweden. Until recently, Svenska Spel was the only company allowed to provide gambling to Swedish citizens, though there were numerous unlicensed regulators popular with the public. On January 1 2019, Sweden ended the state gambling monopoly and invited to its gambling market private, regulated operators. The Swedish Gambling Authority was given the power to approve these operators and issue them a gambling license. More than 100 companies and their websites have been approved so far, including Betsson Group casinos, owned by the Swedish company Betsson Group that offers casino, poker, bingo, sports betting, and scratched cards through more than 20 online brands.

As soon as Sweden renounced its gambling monopoly, the Swedish people immediately began to enjoy a richer arsenal of digital casinos. As Swedish gambling websites became more competitive, cutting-edge technologies were employed to design new, more sophisticated and exciting games for the playing public. Exposed to more online casino providers, Swedish gamblers also started having more security while accessing their content.

The new law strictly prohibited gambling and promotion of betting without the Swedish license. Nor were gamblers permitted to transfer money to and from unlicensed casino operators. Forbidden to make money transfers to illegal gambling websites, the Swedish people never put their funds at risk. Because foreign operators willing to establish themselves on the Swedish market paid taxes, the Swedish government also benefited, and so did foreign operators themselves, stimulated to grow by stiff competition among numerous companies.

Seeing how much the Swedish government, casino operators, and Swedish gamblers have won form the changes in the gambling market, specialists rightly ask now whether Finland will follow suit and will relinquish its monopoly on gambling. If the Finnish government gives a green light to foreign casino operators, it would probably receive tens of millions of euros in tax revenue. Finnish players would be able to enjoy more games, bonuses, and betting opportunities, while foreign online casino providers would develop and become richer, when given a gambling Finnish license. Such positive changes are enthusiastically expected by some people in Finland. Supporters of the idea suggest that the Finnish government should seriously explore the possibility of moving to a license-based system.

Detractors, however, say that if these revolutionary changes are required to cure compulsive gambling among the Finnish people, the renunciation of gambling monopoly by the government will not solve the problem. About 2-percent of the adult population in Sweden, which amounts to 150,000 people, have gambling problems, critics note. They also point out that an additional 5-percent of the Swedish gamblers is in the risk zone for developing gambling addiction. Problem gambling persists in Sweden, the revolutionary changes in its gambling model notwithstanding. These numbers make abundantly clear that giving up monopoly on gambling will not cure the Finnish people addicted to casinos.

Whether the Finnish government will revolutionize its Act on Lotteries is still unclear. Meanwhile, it plans only to remove about 3,000 slot machines from supermarkets, gas stations, and restaurants. It also wants to IP-block gambling websites, restricting money transfer to them from Finland. But even these changes are only previsionary at the moment, and might not materialize in the future.

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