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Finland's slot machines return after coronavirus break

Last year state-owned Veikkaus banked 550 million euros from slot machines.

Sormi rahapeliautomaatin napilla.
Veikkaus has been criticised for not doing enough to curb problem gambling. Image: Ville Välimäki / Yle

Part of Finland’s extensive network of slot machines lit up on Wednesday after a roughly four-month interval caused by the coronavirus shock.

The network, which is owned and managed by the state-owned gambling monopoly Veikkaus, was shut down on 13 March to help slow transmission of the virus, which is believed to spread when people touch contaminated surfaces.

However on Wednesday 8,000 machines were switched on in stores, kiosks, service stations and restaurants.

A condition of Veikkaus’ monopoly position is that while it earns up to two billion euros annually from Finns’ gambling habit, it must also work to reduce the harm caused by excessive gambling, such as social, health and financial problems.

Veikkaus has announced that by the end of the year it will remove nearly half of its slot machines. That will leave roughly 10,000 units deployed in more or less the same locations as they are now.

The monopoly has said that the machines will be removed from areas where they are most heavily used. However a magazine investigation from 2018 (in Finnish) found that Veikkaus concentrates slot machines in areas with high unemployment and low income and education levels -- the same factors that tend to be present in cases of problem gambling.

Veikkaus treads a fine line between virtue and vice. While some say its games and slot machines encourage problem gambling, its earnings also mean it is a major contributor to state coffers. It also funds sports, youth programmes and NGOs to name just a few causes.

Slot machine experience to change

Veikkaus has pledged a number of planned reforms in the wake of heavy criticism for not doing enough to curb excessive gambling.

From January 2021, Veikkaus will introduce compulsory authentication on all slot machines, making it more difficult for impulse users to play with a few loose coins.

Alongside that change, players will have the option of setting monthly or daily spending limits or even imposing playing bans on themselves. Machines will also remind players of their gambling time every 15 minutes.

Until the reforms take effect next year, slot machines in sparsely populated areas will be available for use from 11am until 4am.

The changes will affect Veikkaus’ bottom line. Last year it banked more than 550 million euros from slot machines.

The coronavirus crisis also meant revenues took an unexpected hit, cutting gambling receipts by an estimated one-third. The company said that it will have more up to date information about the impact of the crisis in August.

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