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NGOs want public health experts on board of Finland's gambling monopoly

Veikkaus board members earn a monthly fee of 2,000 euros and an additional 600 euros for each meeting they attend.

Image: Veikkaus

NGOs working to combat gambling addiction are calling for public health experts to be appointed to the board of the state-owned monopoly gambling operator Veikkaus. The non-profits say that the organisation focuses too heavily on making profits at the expense of reducing problem gambling.

Moreover, expertise on the drawbacks of excessive gambling plays "a very small role" on the Veikkaus board, according to Inka Silvennoinen, a division manager of Peluuri, an NGO that helps combat problem betting.

Another grassroots organisation, the Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention or Ehyt, called for Veikkaus to adopt a board composition similar to that of the state-owned alcohol monopoly retailer Alko, which typically has public health experts. According to executive director Juha Mikkonen, the Alko board includes director general of the National Institute of Health and Welfare THL Markku Tervahauta as well as Kirsi Varhila, a senior officer from the Social Affairs and Health Ministry.

"It would be preferable for the Veikkaus board, management and administrative bodies to also have expertise in preventing harmful gambling," Mikkonen declared.

Sirpa Paatero, the minister responsible for government ownership steering, said that the administration would review the issue of board membership in the gambling firm during the autumn.

"I think it’s important that we consider this aspect when subsequent board members are selected," Paatero said by way of response.

Veikkaus recently came under intense scrutiny and heavy criticism for a radio advertising campaign that appeared to encourage frequent gamblers to indulge the habit.

Four politicians on Veikkaus board

In addition to representatives of the business community, the Veikkaus board also comprises four politicians – unlike many other state-owned enterprises. They are MPs Ilkka Kanerva of the National Coalition Party and Jutta Urpilainen of the Social Democratic Party, as well as state secretary Tuomo Puumala of the Centre Party and former Finns Party MP Raimo Vistbacka.

Paatero noted that the decision to appoint the four politicians to the board was made during the previous administration led by Juha Sipilä, when Veikkaus merged with slot machine firm RAY and the horse racing and betting operation Fintoto.

However she did not indicate whether or not the new government would be revisiting the politicians’ board appointments in autumn. She said that her understanding of the appointments was that they would bring a societal perspective to board deliberations.

Veikkaus board members earn a monthly fee of 2,000 euros and an additional 600 euros for each meeting they attend. Some other large state-owned enterprises pay board members similar kinds of fees.

NGOs have pointed out that Veikkaus managers’ salaries are tied to the firm’s profits as well as the growth of online gambling, while reducing problem gambling is not similarly rewarded.

According to Peluuri’s Silvennoinen, pay incentives do not recognise corporate responsibility in any way, but focus on profit financial performance targets.

Paatero also pledged to examine the system of performance incentives.

"It’s important to have performance targets to ensure that Veikkaus functions well, but it would be good to see whether or not they include responsibility for problem betting rather than euro-based results," she commented.

Minister: Good reason for cabinet oversight

The non-profit organisations also suggested that like Alko, ministerial oversight for Veikkaus could be transferred to the social and health affairs ministry. The prime minister’s office is currently responsible for monitoring the performance of the gambling firm.

"If we consider that Veikkaus’ main mission is to prevent problem gambling, it could raise the question of whether or not ownership steering should lie with the social affairs and health ministry, which is responsible for work combating the dangers of excessive gambling," Mikkonen pointed out.

"Alko is governed by the health ministry because the state-owned company has a specific function that is related to public health," he added.

However the minister said that the merger of the three gambling organisations meant that specific ministries were still responsible for allocating Veikkaus profits. The Education and Culture Ministry determines funding distribution for sports, youth and culture programmes, while the health ministry handles allocations for social affairs and health, she noted.

"This is why it was seen as better that overall ownership steering would be in three places, because there is no justification for oversight to lie in the same functions that manage funding distribution," Paatero explained.

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