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Gambling monopoly to remove twice as many gaming machines as planned

Previously, Veikkaus vowed to pull 3,000 slot machines from establishments, but now the figure has risen to 8,000.

Veikkaus' slot machines have been shut down since March, in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

State-owned gambling agency Veikkaus announced on Friday that it will get rid of around 8,000 of its gaming machines, more than twice the number the firm said last year that it planned to remove.

Following calls by politicians for tighter restrictions on gambling in Finland, Veikkaus announced plans to remove around 3,000 slot machines last September. A month earlier the firm faced a public outcry over its ad featuring avid gamblers receiving a therapist's blessing to indulge in their habit.

In a statement issued on Friday, the company said it was aiming to make gambling a less risky proposition, particularly for those who have gambling addictions.

The brightly coloured machines have become ubiquitous in most grocery stores, petrol stations, bars and kiosks. As of last year the firm maintained around 21,500 of the devices around the country.

Aims to prevent problem gambling

According to the Institute for Health and Welfare THL, roughly 130,000 people in Finland struggle with gambling addictions.

"Everyone should have the opportunity to, for example, go to the store without the risk of going back to gaming. That's why all of our slot machines will not open until 11am every day. They will be closed by no later than 4am," Jari Heino, Veikkaus' SVP of channels and sales, said in the statement.

A few years ago, Veikkaus announced plans to require slot machine gamblers to verify their identities before they can play on slot machines. The company said the decrease in machines will last until the ID requirements are rolled out in January 2021. After that, Heino said people will have the possibility to cut off their ability to gamble, if they so choose.

By January of next year, the company said a maximum of four machines will be at each point of sale, and that the reductions would be carried out gradually.

The company's machines will also alert gamblers every 15 minutes to remind them about how long they've been playing.

Coronavirus measures

All of Veikkaus' machines have been turned off since the coronavirus crisis hit Finland in March, but they will be re-activated on July 15.

When they do open up, the company said there will be fewer machines at each establishment, in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Additionally, the firm plans to install protective plexiglass shields between machines and supermarket tills.

"We will also place decals on the floor reminding people about safe distances and will also provide hand sanitiser by machines," Heino said.