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Gambling adverts in Finland should be regulated, health institute says

Finland's health watchdog says that the marketing of gambling should be regulated the way ads for harmful products like tobacco and alcohol are.

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File photo of a person putting money in a gambling machine. Image: AOP

The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) is calling for tighter regulations on gambling adverts and for its marketing to be restricted.

The state-owned gaming monopoly Veikkaus is the only legal gambling firm in Finland and has no competition within its borders. Foreign online casinos are prohibited from marketing their gambling services in Finland.

Residents, however, are permitted to play on foreign gambling sites - and, increasingly, they do. At the beginning of this year Veikkaus announced it was planning job cuts, due to intensifying online competition.

”The advertising slogans of Veikkaus are at odds with public health communication. Veikkaus’ marketing sends very different messages than those about the dangers of gambling. They should be consistent and in keeping with the way that other harmful products are marketed,” THL’s senior researcher Jani Selin said.

Finland banned tobacco advertising in 1976, and in 2015, Finland further adjusted its already-strict laws on alcohol adverts.

”It would be good to consider lessons learned from cigarette and alcohol marketing,” Selin said. "Marketing increases gambling. Consequently, it has a direct correlation to the adverse affects of gambling,” he added.

In addition, THL said the volume of Veikkaus’ marketing should be critically examined, saying it is one of Finland’s biggest advertisers, with an annual marketing budget of nearly 50 million euros.

Veikkaus' profits are distributed through government ministries and channeled to various public organisations and charities.

In 2017, horse betting outfit Fintoto and casino and fruit-machine firm RAY were merged with Veikkaus - which at the time only handled the national lottery. There were hopes in some circles that the merger would help to limit the damaging effects of gambling.

Last month a report by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health found that the difficulties of serious problem gamblers appear to have worsened after the merger.

Veikkaus: No problem with marketing

A citizen’s initiative was started on 23 March calling for slot machines to be removed from stores, kiosks, restaurants and gas stations.

The initiative’s goal is to ensure that gaming would only take place at casinos and in special, supervised gaming halls.

As of Wednesday, the initiative had gathered more than 10,500 signatures. For it to proceed to parliament, the initiative needs at least 50,000 signatures, which is roughly 1.2 percent of eligible voters in the country.

Veikkaus' managing director Velipekka Nummikoski said he doesn’t see an issue with the company's advertising practices, saying that its marketing is already regulated.

”In Finland, we're only allowed to market 'green games,' which is the opposite of foreign gaming companies and their marketing and advertising (in other countries) that is very aggressive,” he says.

"Green games" refer to ones that are considered less harmful which carry a lower risk of gambling addiction.

Nummikoski said he does not agree with initiative's effort to get rid of gambing machines, saying that doing so would would raise other issues in rural areas.

”If gaming machines were removed from smaller, remote municipalities, customers wouldn’t have the opportunity to play at all,” he said.

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