Development of Finnish gambling situation – August 2021

I have written this short analysis of the Finnihs gambling situation together with my business partner Reijo Anttila.

Market situation H1/2021

  • The Covid-19 has continued to have a negative impact on gambling activities in Veikkaus’ physical channels. Gaming arcades and slot machines have had to be partly closed.
  • Compulsory identification-based gaming of physical slot machines came into force in the decentralized slot machines in January 2021. That will significantly reduced Veikkaus’ gross gaming revenue.
  • Mandatory identification of slot machines in Veikkaus’ own gaming arcades came into force in July 2021. The foreign slot machines used by Veikkaus did not have an identification feature ready. As a result, these slot machines had to be closed in Veikkaus’ gaming arcades. Slot machines will be reopened when it is possible that customers can identify themselves in those machines. According to unofficial information, the customer’s obligation to identify himself has collapsed the gaming margin accumulated in Veikkaus’ gaming arcades.
  • Veikkaus started collective bargaining in August 2021. According to the company’s announcement, its purpose is to reduce approximately 200 jobs from the point-of-sale organization. In addition, the company is working to make organizational changes for hundreds of its other employees.
  • In September 2021, the gambling limits for digital, fast-paced gambling will be extended to include slot machine gaming at the physical point of sales. That will further reduce Veikkaus’ revenues. Until now, physical slot machines have been allowed to be played as much as customers want, but in the future, the player will have to set a limit on both daily and monthly consumption. According to the experience of the digital channel, the limits will be set tight. It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of problematic slot machine players, and playing of that group will go down a lot. It is quite possible that some of the declining gambling is likely to move to the digital gambling services of offshore operators.
  • According to information obtained from various sources, the gaming revenue of offshore companies in Finland has been growing strongly during the Covid-19 period.

Gambling in Veikkaus’ physical channel, in particular, is undergoing a considerable change. According to Veikkaus’ H1 / 2021 interim report, only 45 % of gambling took place in the physical channels, and 55 % came from digital sales. In 2019, the physical sales channel accounted for almost 60 % of total sales. At present, about 65 % of all Finnish gambling takes place on digital channels. Within a couple of years, that share will exceed 70 %.

Drafted Lottery Act 2021

  • The project to reform the Lottery Act in accordance with the Government Program was launched in January 2020, when a preparatory working group was appointed.
  • The working group completed the proposal in late 2020. Opinions on the proposal were given in early 2021.
  • The critical points of the drafted law are:
    • The law provides for payment blocking to limit the availability of offshore gambling. Blockings are targeted at gambling companies that market in violation of the Lottery Act. The law does not define what is considered illegal marketing. The regulator (the National Police Board) makes an interpretation. The regulator maintains a “blacklist” of illegally marketing gambling operators. Banks and payment service providers are required to block payment transactions to “blacklisted” gambling companies.
    • Provisions on mandatory player identification are added to the law. In the beginning, of course, this only applies to Veikkaus’ operations, but it can be considered a policy that will be valid later also in a possible licensing market situation.
    • A provision is added to the law to extend the decision prohibiting the marketing of gambling that violates the Lottery Act to natural persons. In addition, there will be the possibility of imposing an administrative penalty fee for marketing in breach of the Lottery Act.
    • According to the bill, Veikkaus will be allowed to market horse and sports betting, even though they are considered to be gambling products that can cause significant gambling problems.
    • The law specifies the provisions concerning Veikkaus’ marketing and supervision of the implementation of gambling. In addition, conditions on the placement and self-monitoring of slot machines will be added to the law.
    • The Act adds provision on the possibility for Veikkaus to establish a subsidiary engaged in business between companies (B2B) for non-gambling activities and on the conditions and restrictions concerning the subsidiary’s operation to be installed.
  • The drafted law was sent at the end of April 2021 to the EU notification process. The start of the EU process was so urgent that the opinion of the Legislative Evaluation Council was not available before the process started. A subsequent opinion of the Evaluation Council noted several shortcomings in the preparation of the law. Particular attention will be paid to the fact that the preparation work has not explored other possible options (e.g., legislation based on a licensing system). The explanatory memorandum to the Lottery Act also lacks financial calculations and impact assessments of the law to the operations of the Åland-based PAF company.
  • In July 2021, Malta issued a “detailed opinion” on the law in the context of the EU notification process. The “detailed opinion” challenges the Finnish state to justify the necessity and proportionality of the decisions. Finland has three months to give its answer and make any necessary changes. Although the measures in the law appear to be significant in order to achieve the stated goals, the result is probably that the bill will be essentially the same for consideration by parliament. According to unofficial information, Finland has already answered and apparently made only minor changes to the bill. The law is expected to be submitted to the Finnish Parliament in the coming weeks – in September 2021.
  • The probabilities of whether a proposal will go through at all, whether it will go through as it is presented, or whether it will go through modified will vary all the time. The collapse of Veikkaus’ financial result favors rolling the change in the law on a tight schedule. The outcome of the changes in the law will not significantly change the situation. So, a serious debate on the transition to a licensing system is ahead in any case.
  • According to the information, it seems certain that the current model, in which the beneficiaries’ revenue is directly linked to Veikkaus’ income, will be dismantled. A working group has been appointed to prepare for the change, which is expected to present a proposal by the end of 2021. The goal is for the change to take effect from the beginning of 2024. Breaking the direct link between the beneficiaries and Veikkaus’ income also requires an amendment to the Lotteries Act. As a result, the law will have to be reopened in either 2022 or 2023. In this context, it is theoretically possible that other significant changes could be made to the law.

Political situation

  • Political turbulence is severe. The governmental program binds government parties, but the situation is difficult due to Veikkaus’ revenues collapse. Politicians would like to support Veikkaus’ market position, but there are no ways to do so. According to current information, the Lottery Act is going to be accepted in parliament. However, there has been debate about the rationale for monopolistic gambling legislation, and MPs, also from governmental parties, have expressed differing views.
  • The connection between Veikkaus and its beneficiaries will be severed by 2024 at the latest. Before that, the state subsidy received by Veikkaus’ beneficiaries will already decrease considerably. Veikkaus’ revenues will be transferred to the state budget, from which the beneficiaries’ grants will be paid in accordance with the budget decisions made by the respective government.
  • A political debate has begun on changing the entire gambling system. Veikkaus’ market share of all Finns’ gambling will fall below 70 % in the coming years. In digital channels, Veikkaus’ market share is close to 60 %, and in the competitive gambling product areas (casino games and fixed-odds betting), it is estimated to be only about 35 %. Based on these developments, it is no longer sensible and possible to continue with a monopoly system. The question is mainly at what stage the system will be converted to license-based and what kind of multi-license system will be created.
  • It is unlikely that the next Finnish government will decide to continue with the gambling monopoly system. The next population survey on gambling problems will be conducted in 2023. It is assumed that the number of gambling problems will not decrease significantly in that survey. Reduced slot machine gambling lowers the gambling problems experienced to some extent. It is doubtful that this effect will be seen in the population survey, as the share of digital gambling has exploded in both gambling and the number of gambling problems.
  • The share of digital gaming in Finland’s total gambling will soon reach 70 %. Veikkaus’ market share of that gambling has fallen rapidly to 60 %. In certain competitive product areas, Veikkaus’ share of gambling is already at a very low level; for example, in fixed-odds sports betting, it is estimated at only about 25 %. In such a market situation, the monopoly system can no longer continue.

Lotteries’ requirements are growing – operating models must change

I have originally written this text for http://www.lotterydaily.com, and Conor Porter has partly modified the text.

A company’s mission is to make a profit for its owners. That is also the case for lotteries, although they do not fully follow the way standard business companies operate. Responsible gaming and the restrictions that arise from gaming play a significant impact. Ultimately, lotteries also strive to achieve the biggest possible income flow for their owners and beneficiaries within their operation framework.

Companies that strive for results are constantly thinking about the best ways to run their operations. The goal is to keep up with developments or even be at the forefront. It is also a requirement to do the activity as efficiently as possible. Successful companies must also be better than their competitors in the same market in at least some areas.

Back in the early 2000s, lotteries did not think as described above. The companies have mainly been state-owned or at least have a monopoly position granted by them. That has reduced the pressure of business success and, in many cases, lotteries could be described as government offices rather than successful businesses. From an economic point of view, it is clear that a monopoly company always operates less efficiently than a company involved in the competition.

Most lotteries have not sought and still do not strive to be at the forefront of development. Companies have even had difficulty keeping up reasonably with the changing world around them. However, that has not hampered operations as long as the monopoly position has remained in practice and not just on paper. Attention has been paid to the efficiency of operations, but the starting point has been, above all, saving and not optimizing operations. Nor has the aim been to be the best operator in the market, even in some areas, as quite a few lotteries have been denied competing against anyone.

Of course, the situation is not the same everywhere. As I have already stated in my previous columns, the lotteries are a very heterogeneous group. There are still many state-owned companies among lotteries that are even part of the administration and operate like government offices. On the other hand, there are very business-oriented companies in the lottery world, some of which are owned by private equity investors or are even listed companies. The operating models of the state office and the listed company are not the same.

I do not mean that all lotteries should act as standard business companies do. Instead, I mean, each lotteries’ operating models can’t be the same because their goals are so different. Each company must find the most suitable operating methods for its operating environment and goals. The situation is such that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

One exciting area is outsourcing. How much and what companies should do themselves and what aspects they should outsource? It is not just a question of cost efficiency, although companies too often only think about that. By outsourcing operations, a company can achieve cost savings. Yet, it is also essential to focus on what can best improve the way you do business. Outsourcing often helps simplify management.

One of the most commonly outsourced things in the gambling world is technology. Lotteries have traditionally acquired all gambling-related technology from a single supplier. Operating models have differed quite a lot between European and US lotteries, for example. European companies have mostly bought the technology, while US lotteries have outsourced the entire gaming system to technology vendors as well. IGT, Scientific Games, and Intralot have dominated this area for a long time.

However, especially for more advanced lotteries, the situation has changed significantly. The development of digitalization and the expansion of the ​​operation of lotteries have mainly contributed to this. In addition to traditional scratch cards and lottery games in the retail channel, new product areas have emerged, such as sports betting, which is increasingly played on digital channels. That has changed not only the competitive situation but also the technical requirements.

While lotteries continue to operate draw-based games and scratch cards on a monopoly basis, and some companies also have a monopoly in other gaming areas, the shift to digital channels has further tightened competition. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other gambling companies available to consumers on the internet and mobile world. Customers have also learned to demand better products and services from lotteries.

Traditional technology suppliers have excellently mastered the actual lottery gaming systems and related point-of-sale terminals. The structure of lottery games has been very similar for decades, which is why game development has been handled in collaboration with technology suppliers. However, the digital sales channel requirements and new product areas are different compared to traditional models. That has led to more technology companies entering the market, focusing on smaller specialty areas. Some companies have focused only on systems that operate on digital channels, others only on sports game solutions, and others only on game/content production.

The level of demand for many lotteries has increased with development. Advanced lotteries, in particular, want to take advantage of the best solutions in different areas, which is why buying everything from one technology supplier is no longer a viable model. Today, gambling systems in different product areas and sales channels may all come from different providers. That has caused a significant change in the IT-architecture. Everything no longer revolves around the lottery solution. Today, more and more companies have switched to a model where PAM is at the center of everything because customer data is the same for all game verticals and distribution channels.

So does outsourcing of technology make sense anymore? That is no longer possible for advanced and versatile gambling operators, so the issue is not valid for all lotteries. But the answer is not that simple. In the lottery sector, which still operates under strict state control and offers only traditional lottery products, it may make sense to continue all IT operations to a technology company and focus not only on administration but also on sales and marketing activities. The decision is made above all on what is most important to the company and its basis to achieve the most optimal profit level.

However, it is easy to predict that while the legal monopoly in lottery games may persist for a long time to come, the digitalization of the business will sooner or later drive all lotteries into a real competitive situation. In that world, traditional operating models will no longer succeed, but companies must understand and prepare for a huge change. That does not mean, for example, pushing responsibility out of the way of doing business, but changing companies’ processes, know-how, and management.

Does the proposed Finnish gambling legislation make sense or not?

I have written this column for http://www.lotterydaily.com (published February, 1st), and Conor Porter has partly modified the text.

The Ministry of the Interior Affairs has published a proposal for Finland’s new gambling legislation early in January.

The preparatory work done by the officials lasted for almost one year. I think that they did a great job, as Covid-19 certainly made the process significantly more complicated and, nevertheless, the work was done on schedule. The outcome of the work was also excellent given the assignment of the task. Officials are not responsible for the fact that the political mandate of the work was anything but sensible.

The aim of Finland’s current Government Program is to secure Veikkaus’ monopoly and operating conditions. In addition to this, the objective is to combat gambling problems and to channel gambling to Veikkaus’ responsible and controlled offering.

The Government Program also states that other gambling companies’ marketing will be addressed, and ways will be sought to restrict gambling to other gambling operators’ sites.

Based on the gambling policy guidelines mentioned above set out in the Government Program, the Ministry of the Interior Affairs set up a working group in early 2020 to prepare the guidelines for Finland’s new gambling legislation. The starting point for the legal reform was that the Finnish gambling system would continue to be based on a monopoly system.

Therefore, the working group did not have the opportunity to carry out such proper preparatory work as analyzed and sought the best possible solution as a basis for the Finnish gambling system. The mandate stated unequivocally that the preparation should be based on a monopoly model. Therefore, well-functioning licence-based models in other countries were not even studied.

I have stated on many occasions that I am always, in principle, objected to monopolies. On the other hand, during my Veikkaus-years, I’ve understood that there are business areas where competition should be limited. Gambling is definitely an activity that states must regulate because of potential problems.

However, this does not mean that a monopoly is automatically the best solution for restricting operations. It is lousy preparation if not all possible sensible alternatives are analyzed, but one of the essential things is decided without examining them. On what grounds can the Finnish Government claim that, in preparing the matter, it has promoted the interests of its citizens in the best possible way by prohibiting the examination of possible better alternatives?

As a whole, the proposal for new gambling legislation is a huge disappointment. Maybe I expected too much when I hoped to see things change. Now I feel that just a few changes are promised, and they are taking some things in the wrong direction. Hopefully, even concerning the gambling problems, there are developments in the right direction. But I am not sure about it.

The number of gambling problems in Finland has changed incomprehensibly little during the 21st century compared to the fact that gambling has increased significantly. The share of Finns suffering from gambling problems has been at the level of about 3% from year to year.

Instead, the number of people suffering from serious gambling problems has increased somewhat, and I hope that the new legislation will help this unfortunate development. I will return to this topic shortly after commenting on the policies made on physical slot machines.

The Finnish gambling policy’s core problem has been the discrepancy between business profit expectations and the responsibility requirements set at the same time. The Finnish state has not been able to decide which issue it considers more important. Therefore Veikkaus, the monopoly operator, has had challenges in understanding what the owner wants from it.

Revenue expectations have been high, but at the same time, instruments to respond to competition have not been allowed to be used. It now seems evident that responsibility has gained and is gaining more weight. On the positive side, the choice has finally been made, but I think it is far too late and no longer enough to save the situation. Now there is a significant risk that the gambling problems will not develop in the desired direction. At the same time, gambling profits will collapse, and above all, Veikkaus will permanently lose its future competitiveness.

Mandatory identification for gambling is coming, which is now introduced a few weeks ago in physical slot machines. The requirement to register for other gambling products will take effect over a few years. It is a good reform in terms of responsible gambling, but it is also a reform that will significantly impact the decrease in gambling revenue. The potential positive impact of identified gambling on business is based on the utilization of customer data.

However, it seems that Veikkaus’ ability to use data as a modern business company will be restricted or even denied. This shows that decision-makers have no understanding of what can be done with customer data. Using it is not automatically the same thing as adding gambling problems. It seems that the Finnish state no longer even wants Veikkaus to operate a profitable business anymore, but at most just put its products on offer, as was the case in the 1980s. I’m sorry on behalf of Veikkaus’ knowledgeable and skillful employees because they do not get to do the job properly.

There have been significant changes in slot machine operations over the past year. Veikkaus voluntarily decided to reduce the number of those machines a lot. However, the number of slot machine locations did not decrease in almost the same proportion. The change that has now come into force, making slot machine play only possible for registered customers, is a good thing. The explanatory memorandum to the new law states that slot machines’ placement should aim for solutions that minimize the gambling problems.

However, many would like to see slot machines removed from public open spaces, but that is not the case. I have never understood why slot machines can be kept in entirely open spaces in Finland. Slot machines are an integral part of gambling, but I think the machines’ correct location would be mainly in arcades and other age-restricted areas, following the Danish model. However, this is not the case in Finland, even after the new gambling legislation.

One of the most positive reforms of the proposed legislation is the clarification of the marketing of gambling. The premise is that marketing should be moderate and channel gambling to games that don’t cause so many problems. The weakness of the current legislation in force has been the definition of marketing and product information provision.

Several years ago, I was among those who planned the current gambling marketing policies, and I am ready to raise my hand and admit a mistake (as in basketball). I am glad that from the new legislation, the possibility to share product information is removed. Appropriate legislation should contain as few interpretations as possible, and the situation now seems to be improving.

The introduction of payment blocking will cause my blood pressure to rise. It could be the best solution for everyone, that I advise you to read a blog written by Aki Pyysing on the subject (https://www.sijoitustieto.fi/sijoitusartikkelit/viisikko-blokkaa-pelkasta-rajoittamisen-ilosta – unfortunately only in Finnish). However, it is enough to say that this reform makes no sense.

The reform’s economic impact is entirely non-existent, and this will not reduce gambling problems, so why is such nonsense done? In light of Norway’s experience, the blockings may restrict banks and major payment companies’ activities. Still, they will be replaced very soon by new service providers beyond the control.

Personally, the most exciting reform proposal is the opportunity for Veikkaus, or its subsidiary, to start a new type of business. I was the CEO of that kind of subsidiary, Veikkaus Solutions Ltd, and most recently, my job in Veikkaus was to prepare for re-starting a new business. Now it seems that Veikkaus would again have the opportunity to establish a subsidiary for non-gambling activities. The intention is for the subsidiary to provide gambling products and services to other operators and not engage in consumer gambling activities.

This is an excellent thing in the long run. Sales contracts for gambling products and services today are based almost exclusively on the revenue share model. The compensation received by the selling company is based on how much the customers of the buying company end up buying those products.

Hopefully, the Finnish authorities will not interpret such sales for gambling purposes. A massive opportunity for Veikkaus, which is still one of the best lotteries globally, would be to start international B2C gambling operations. Selling gambling products directly to customers in other countries would generate significantly more revenue than trading among gambling companies. However, B2C operations are not possible under the Finnish monopoly system. It would have been one additional primary reason for moving to a license-based system.

In conclusion, the answer to my question in the title is NOT. This reform, as a whole, makes no sense. I consider it a much better option to omit this proposed change altogether and move on to the licence-based system’s preparation. The rationale for the licence-based model would be worth its own separate column.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM NORWAY’S GAMBLING MONOPOLY?

I have written this blog for LotteryDaily.com and they published it last week. This text is partly modified by Chris Murphy.

The Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have quite similar systems and legislation in many areas. That has been the case also in gambling business until the beginning of 2010’s when Denmark decided to move from a monopoly to a license-based system in 2011. 

Sweden decided to follow that from the beginning of 2019. Finland and Norway still have gambling monopolies in all gambling areas, and they are by the way the only European countries that still have that kind of legislative situation. 

It begs the question; why are those well-developed, innovative countries still trying to keep a monopoly-based system? Furthermore, is there anything we could learn from them? 

For the purposes of this particular column I’ll concentrate solely on Norway and return to covering developments in my home country after some months. As you know, in practice all European countries have a monopoly-based system in lottery games but not in sports betting. And most countries have never even had a monopoly in the casino business. But Norway has a monopoly in all gambling areas and physical casinos are totally forbidden. 

The question is, has that kind of model worked well? The size of gambling business in Norway is big. There are about 5.4 million inhabitants in the country and the total GGR of gambling business in 2019 was M€1.244. Almost half of GGR came from digital channels. 

Gambling acceptable among Norwegians

Although there is a monopoly, the share of offshore operators is big – according to H2GC it is 27%. Gambling is common and acceptable among Norwegians. According to surveys almost 2/3 of adults used to play some gambling products at least once a year.

The previous government was keen on liberalization and it seriously investigated a number of other possible legislative models for the Norwegian gambling business. In 2015 it opened up the lottery business by a fraction by issuing supplementary lottery licenses for five small operators. Those licenses are still valid, but the operational possibilities are extremely limited. 

It seemed that Norway would move to a license-based system at the same time as Sweden, but in summer 2017 the government decided to continue the monopoly system. The system is not as the monopoly we have in Finland because there are two operators, Norsk Tipping and Rikstoto, and small lotteries plus bingo halls, but in principle it is still a monopoly.

Norway has run and controlled monopoly-based gambling seriously. The prevention of gambling problems has been the main purpose, relegating profit to just a secondary element. The country has enough money anyhow and there has been no need to maximize gambling revenues at all. 

There are lots of restrictions for gambling in Norway. Mandatory identification in order to gamble has been in existence for many years and there are tight gambling/loss limits in the gambling business run by the state-owned Norsk Tipping. Norway had also tried to restrict gambling offshore with blocks in place for 10 years. 

Gambling offshore is still legal in Norway, but operators don’t have licenses to offer their services in the country and are prevented from marketing their products. To compound matters, it has become difficult to move money to those companies and get winnings back from them. 

However, preventing Norwegian players from gambling offshore has been difficult to achieve because they have become accustomed to playing with those operators. According to customer surveys many Norwegians are unaware that companies like Unibet and Betsson don’t have licenses to operate in Norway. That might explain why 27 % of gambling is still going abroad despite the official monopoly system.

I think, though, that Norway is the best example of how a country should organize its gambling business should it be monopoly-based. Its system is not an ideal one, because there is no reason to have those minor lotteries and probably they should consider merging Norsk Tipping and horse betting operator Rikstoto. 

But there are lots of good things. The state has allowed Norsk Tipping to develop its own business, enabling the state-owned lottery company to offer good products and service to its customers. It is important, however, to have the right channels in place, otherwise the legitimacy of the monopoly system will disappear. 

Norway has now introduced even lower loss limits for gambling. That has and will continue to affect the profitability of Norsk Tipping for sure. The same kind of limits are expected to be applied to horse betting too from the beginning of 2022 and that will greatly impact the GGR of Rikstoto. 

More laws proposed

Consequently, if Norway can’t better control offshore gambling there will be an inevitable migration of players in that direction. The current government knows that and has proposed more laws, for example a restriction of gambling ads on satellite channels which will limit the business of offshore companies. At the moment it seems that tighter payment blocks have managed to reduce offshore gambling a little, but according to estimates it is just a temporary remedy.

To reiterate, the main purpose of the monopoly system is to prevent gambling problems. Norway has tried to do that for a long time. Among other measures, they prohibited the huge slot machines business that was operating 15 to 20 years ago, because most gambling problems were caused by those machines. 

It is strange that although Norway has put lots of effort into the reduction of problem gambling, the results are not so good. The University of Bergen has undertaken significant new research on Norway’s gambling problems. It found that the incidence of problem gambling has increased compared to the situation in 2015. There are 3.1 % of people suffering from gambling problems (2.3 % in 2015) and 1.4% are experiencing serious problems (0.9 % in 2015). 

The number of gambling problems is now at the same level as it was before the ban on the slot machine business. The structure of gambling problems has also changed. Now almost half of the problems are coming from digital casino games. Nowadays younger customers are suffering from gambling problems than before. There are different measurement methods of gambling problems in different countries, but despite that it is obvious that the number of gambling problems is at a higher level than it is in Denmark and Sweden where they no longer have a monopoly.

Norway has strongly and consistently tried to control the social and economic disadvantages of gambling with a monopoly. It is even prepared to decrease profit levels if that would help to reduce the number of problem gamblers. I would like to award them “10 points” for that. 

Unfortunately, results show that it has still not succeeded very well. There will be more restrictions for offshore operations, but it is unclear if they will work or not. I believe that state control and regulation will always be behind business development and that’s why there is no way to totally prevent offshore gambling anymore. 

Might it be possible that the monopoly system is no longer the best tool to prevent gambling problems in the current digitalized world?

Given that a monopoly has not succeeded in combating Norway’s gambling problems, it is unlikely these measures will work in any other European country. In Norway and also here in Finland we will have a discussion sooner or later about gambling monopolies. The states must find the best balance to prevent gambling problems and offer customers the best products possible. That leaves one final question; does the monopoly system still offer the best way to achieve that?

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.