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Hold the slots: Young adults taking more critical view of gambling

Adverse media attention has contributed to gambling losing its appeal in Finland, according to health institute THL.

Veikkaus says it has installed plexiglass shields on checkout desks and between the slot machines to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Image: Retu Liikanen / Yle

Growing public debate on gambling in Finland may be causing residents to take a more critical approach to the habit, suggests the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

In 2019 Finns held 'mildly negative' views of gambling. That's in contrast to four years earlier in 2015, when residents reported 'mildly positive' attitudes toward the industry, according to the health watchdog.

Last year state-owned gambling monopoly Veikkaus' image took a hit after facing a public outcry over its ad featuring avid gamblers receiving a therapist's blessing to indulge in their habit. That scandal also led to calls by politicians for tighter restrictions on gambling.

"The media has written a lot of about gambling and addiction, so it’s possible that young adults in particular are taking a more critical look at gambling-related issues," Anne Salonen, a senior researcher at the THL, told Yle.

Veikkaus contributes one billion euros in profits to the government and pays 200 million euros in taxes. Slot machines, scratchcards, the weekly lottery, and other forms of gambling are familiar fixtures in grocery shops and convenience stores across the country.

However responding to shifts in attitudes, Jari Heino, a senior vice president at Veikkaus, earlier this month said, "in December 2020, there will be a maximum of 10,500 slot machines in the retail network -- shops, kiosks, and service stations. At the beginning of this year, they numbered some 18,500."

Cultural revolution?

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 make up one group that has become far more critical of gambling, according to THL.

"A cultural change is definitely one factor and it’s related to how young people want to spend their time. Gambling may have taken a backseat in that sense," she explained.

Raising the minimum age on slot machines from 15 to 18 some ten years ago may also have impacted young adults’ views on gambling.

"Those who are between 18 and 24 today have grown up in a slightly different gambling scene than those who are older," Salonen explained.

THL also recently reported that the segment of people playing games of chance less frequently than once per month was growing. It has also noted that the number of players with diagnosed gambling problems has been decreasing since 2015.

"People who don’t gamble at all or know someone with a gambling problem typically take a more critical view," Salonen said.

Restrictions over bans

Ninety-one percent of respondents in THL’s latest gambling survey said gambling shouldn't be promoted while 71 percent said there are too many opportunities to gamble away money.

However at the same time 70 percent didn’t believe gambling should be outlawed, and 36 percent said they opposed the idea of restricting access to gambling outside of Finland--something about six percent of Finns currently do online.

Salonen said these opinions suggested that while Finns may be annoyed by prohibitions on gambling, they are open to restrictions to it.

The THL has studied residents’ attitudes towards gambling every four years since 2007. The most recent survey from 2019 interviewed 3,994 residents aged 15-74 by phone.