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Compulsive Gambling Afflicts 40,000 in Finland

Three percent of Finland's adult population are problem gamblers. Two-thirds of these, around 40,000 people, suffer from serious gambling addictions, which can gobble up all of their resources and free time.

Compulsive gambling is often compared with other compulsive behaviours such as addictions to shopping or sex. However the root causes of these obsessions remain unclear.

"The best known type of addiction is substance addiction, whose results can usually be clearly seen by others. But compulsive gambling is not externally visible," notes psychologist Marja Pura, who leads a therapy group for compulsive gamblers at Oulu's Redi 64 youth addiction centre.

"In extreme cases, which we call the desperado phase, the addict is truly alone and heavily in debt. Suicidal thinking and attempts become part of everyday life," she says.

A growing number of addicts are hooked on internet games such as online poker.

"It's easy. You can do it secretly from home," Pura points out.

Does Public Control Help?

However most problem gambling in Finland is still associated with games operated by state monopolies, Veikkaus, the Slot Machine Association (RAY) and Fintoto.

The European Union takes a dim view of the Finnish state's gambling monopoly. The government defends by arguing that state controlled gambling is better at preventing gambling-related problems.

"From the point of view of preventing problems, a system directly under state or public control is at least theoretically better able to intervene in problems," says Dr Tuukka Tammi, Research Manager at the A-Clinic Foundation and chair of the Finnish Society for Alcohol and Drug Research.

"However the level of compulsive gambling appears to be about the same regardless of what kind of system is in effect," he says.

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