Statutory monopoly system is effective in preventing negative effects of gambling

18.10.2010 11.37
News item N5-56496

Finland's legislation regulating gaming activities is being upgraded. Amendments to the Lotteries Act came into force 1 October, and the minimum age for playing slot machines will be raised to 18 from 1 July 2011. The aim especially is to protect children and the young from the hazards linked to gaming. The new measures see a prohibition on targeting gaming marketing at underaged people. "The shift to a statutory monopoly system will help prevent the negative social and financial effects of gaming," says Kari Haavisto, Ministerial Adviser at the MSAH.

The Finnish government's rules on gaming will be further tightened up in the second phase of the reform of the Lotteries Act. The proposed amendments to the Act will be put to Parliament in the coming weeks.

Haavisto points out that the character of gaming has altered crucially in recent years. Its tempo has intensified and the risks of its negative effects have increased due to technological developments. "General research shows that the sorts of games that are particularly addictive are those in which winnings can be quickly claimed and gambled again. In the past, you had to wait several days to retrieve lottery winnings. But nowadays the interval on the website of Veikkaus - the national betting agency - is just a few minutes."

Online setting blurs line between gambling and entertainment

Information based on calls received by Peluuri, the gambling helpline for problem gamblers and their families and friends, indicates that slot machines are responsible for the majority of gambling problems. Internet gaming has increased and now follows second in terms of hazard. Nearly a third of calls to Peluuri in 2009 concerned online gaming.

Internet gaming entails particular risks, according to Haavisto, because the internet allows people to play anywhere, anytime and without the social control of their close environment. From the viewpoint of children and the young, a further problem with the internet is that the risks of the negative effects of gaming are no longer delimited according to varieties and types of gaming. In addition to actual gaming, games designed to entertain may also involve spending money.

"It seems that the dividing lines between entertaining games and conventional gaming have become blurred. For instance, spending money and profit seeking are possible in various adventure games. When one becomes used to the model of spending cash in the online environment through play, moving on to actual gaming at a later stage may feel easy and natural," says Haavisto.

New problems demand new solutions. The amendments to the Lotteries Act are designed to give Finland's authorities the necessary tools to prevent harm from gaming and to monitor gaming activity.

Strengthening state supervision

The reform of the Lotteries Act is taking place in two stages. The first came into effect at the beginning of October. The second will be considered by Parliament in the coming weeks.

The reformed legislation will give the authorities better tools to intervene in the illicit marketing of gaming. One aim is to shift the licensing system to a statutory monopoly system. State control over gaming bodies will be strengthened. The new Act will increase the readiness of the authorities to intervene in illegal gaming and to make penalties more severe.

State guidance will deter mutual competition between private profit seeking and gaming operators. This creates the preconditions for effectively preventing the negative effects of gaming. "Maximising winnings, which is associated with free competition, easily leads to an over emphasis on aiming for winnings and a more intense tempo, and via that to an increase in the risks of the negative effects of gaming. The monopoly system will also eliminate the organised crime and money laundering that are often associated with the gambling industry."

In the future, players using games of the gaming companies that belong to the monopoly system will continue to be able to play online. The Finnish Slot Machine Association recently launched Finland's first online poker game. So far there are over 60 foreign websites offering online poker in Finnish, but legal Finnish licensed gaming companies provide none of them. If the demand for gambling is to be channelled safely, it is important that there is also a domestic, secure and regulated outlet for online gaming.

Lower threshold for getting help

The limitations contained in the amended Act are currently being implemented. But they are not sufficient on their own. Haavisto stresses that services and treatment for problem gamblers must be constantly developed. "Having a gambling problem can make one feel ashamed and at worst to become cut off from social relations. All too often the threshold to seeking help is too high. It's important to create a more open discursive environment than there is at present, and that there's constant work done for it."

June saw the opening in Helsinki of the Gambling Clinic, an example of a low-threshold service for problem gamblers and their relatives and friends. The Gambling Clinic is also the first joint activity carried out by municipalities, NGOs and the state to develop the treatment of problem gambling.

Haavisto says that social and health care personnel must also have an adequate knowledge of gambling problems and their treatment. The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Centre of Expertise on Social Welfare of Central Finland have produced an online course in the prevention and care of gambling problems. Educational establishments are able to make use of relevant information from THL's website free of charge for instruction on issues of problem gambling.

Anni Syrjäläinen