THE FINNISH GAMBLING MONOPOLY – TO HAVE OR NOT TO HAVE IT?

I’m still on my summer holiday and try to avoid to do too much work but now it’s almost impossible to avoid that. There is the most active discussion about the Finnish gambling system going on and I believe that I understand very well what it is about. I should mention once again that all opinions are my own ones and my company Veikkaus has nothing to do with this blog.

We got new government about two months ago and I gave my estimations what that will mean for the Finnish gambling policy and system. I believed that the importance of responsible gaming will increase, and the current monopoly-based system will stay until the end of 4 years period of the new government. I still believe on that but now the probability of system change has become a little bit higher. Our Prime Minister Antti Rinne has said that Finland should make deep analyze about other possibilities too.

There are two main areas which have caused lots of discussion. The first one has been those 18000 slot machines which Veikkaus has all over the country in shops, cafeterias and gasoline stations. The second item has been ads where Veikkaus has given too positive feeling of gambling. It’s quite obvious that there have been too big mistakes in those ads where for example “therapist” has encouraged “patient” to make some horse betting. But are those mistakes so serious ones that due to them we should discuss about the gambling system? Are those mistakes sign of something bigger problem which we have?

The new Veikkaus is in bad situation. The company is 100 % owned by the Finnish State. It’s obvious that management should follow the guidelines which owner will give but has it been clear what the owner is willing to have? The operational profit from Veikkaus to the state has been over 1 billion euros a year and gambling tax has been about 200 million a year. The Finnish State has got from Veikkaus totally about 1,2 B€ which is over 2 % of the state budget. So, we are talking about the huge financial issue. But as you know, the fiscal revenue can’t be the official reason for gambling monopoly. The only acceptable reason for monopoly system could be prevention of social problems like crime and problem gambling. The Finnish State has decided that monopoly is the best way to prevent those gambling problems. But would it be possible to maintain that revenue level and at the same time prevent problems?

The Finnish State should decide which is the primary goal of Veikkaus – money or responsible gaming. If they will select responsible gaming, it will mean that they should accept that the revenue level will go down quite a lot. I think that it would be quite easy to increase responsibility if we don’t have to care about the profit at all. But Veikkaus doesn’t have monopoly anymore in real life and our regulators don’t have tools to regulate those offshore companies which have already quite big market share in online gambling business in Finland (their GGR from Finland is about 300 M€). If Veikkaus will increase the responsible level and regulator can’t control those unregulated companies the gambling revenue will go outside the Finnish borders and gambling problems won’t decrease. If the Finnish State will select profit as a main goal, it will mean the end of monopoly and we’ll do the same what has happened for example in Denmark and Sweden.

I would say that the current situation is strange where Veikkaus is in the middle and ”shots” are coming from socially responsible bodies which are looking for much more responsible gaming actions and require Veikkaus to stop business development and marketing. At the same time ”shots” are also coming from total other side from more business-oriented bodies who would like to break monopoly-based system and promote offshore gambling companies. It is almost fun to follow that kind of discussion where those two totally opposite bodies have found the common enemy. I would say that it would be similar case when in politics extreme right and extreme left will find common enemy.

The new government decided just two months ago what kind of gambling policy they will follow. Despite of that our Prime Minister Antti Rinne said few days ago that they will consider that policy again, but it should be based on facts and deep understanding of gambling business. Quite many EU countries have moved from monopoly system to license-based system and we have lots of bench marking information from those changes. I think that we could utilize the experiences from France, Denmark and Sweden and could estimate what that kind of gambling systems would mean here in Finland from business and responsible gaming point of views. I have been surprised that there is not so much information about responsible gaming results from those other countries – it even seems that they haven’t care about that so much when they have changed their systems. As far as I know they didn’t make any problem gambling research in Denmark before they moved to the license system.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to take care profit and responsible gaming at the same time but it’s very difficult to do. I’m saying that decision makers should know what they are looking for and what those changes might mean. As an economist I would say that monopoly as such will decrease the business activities. So, if Finland will follow the Swedish way, it would mean that at least that gambling activities will increase and we’ll have more marketing actions. But at the same time our regulators could control all those current unregulated offshore companies which are nowadays out of their scope and that would be positive thing. I don’t know what will happen here in Finland, but I know that we’ll interesting time ahead.

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