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Parties open to tighter restrictions on slot machines

All groups except the Finns Party say stricter ID rules should also be brought in sooner.

Sormi rahapeliautomaatin napilla.
Young adult men and elderly women are the most vulnerable to problem gaming, THL said. Image: Ville Välimäki / Yle

Finland's political parties are amenable to tighter restrictions on slot machines and gambling, according to a survey of political parties by Yle.

The parties responded to a brief Yle survey on Wednesday after weeks of talks and controversy over the ethics of gambling monopoly Veikkaus' advertising practices.

Some restrictions are already on the way, while a citizens initiative is also looking to slash the number of slot machines Veikkaus operates and restrict their locations.

By 2022 gamblers in Finland will be required by law to digitally identify themselves to prove they are over 18 before accessing gambling services and slot machines. All parties except the populist Finns Party told Yle that they would be prepared to move that date forward in order to better monitor underage gaming.

Minister of Local Government and Ownership Steering Sirpa Paatero from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) said she would be working to advance the identification timetable with Veikkaus this autumn.

"I'll be meeting with Veikkaus earlier than originally planned," Paatero said. "We need to figure out how to technically implement this ID reform."

Veikkaus estimated that bringing in the new ID rule in 2022 would mean the monopoly would see losses of anywhere between 17 million and 170 million euros. At the same time, however, costs from addiction and problem gaming would decrease.

Gambling in Finland is a closed shop, with only Veikkaus officially allowed to operate and all Veikkaus profits used to fund culture, sports and social policy. That means politicians are both in charge of regulating Veikkaus and dependent on it for revenue to fund government spending.

Removal from shops

Yle asked parties whether gambling machines should be removed entirely from shops and kiosks and moved into dedicated arcades, as a popular citizens' initiative with more than 28,000 signatures is fighting for.

Of the official parties the Green Party, Left Alliance and Christian Democrats said they would support a ban on gambling machines in any spaces other than specified gaming halls. Unregistered political group Movement Now also answered that they would be for a public ban.

Green Party chair and Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo stuck to her hard line, saying that arcade gaming would be enough for non-addicted enthusiasts.

"Designating a certain facility for these games would most likely bring problematic playing habits down. Monitoring age limits and preventing severe drawbacks would be more effective," Ohisalo said.

How many is too many?

The Finnish government allows gambling monopoly Veikkaus to operate a maximum of 18,600 slot machines nationwide. The current number of machines is just 100 units below that.

Five of the registered political parties – namely the SDP, Centre Party, Finns Party, National Coalition Party (NCP) and the Swedish People's Party – declined to comment on the appropriate number of machines.

Nainen pelaa rahapelejä.
Many politicians and citizens are calling for the removal of gambling machines from shops. Image: Marja Väänänen / Yle

NCP chair Petteri Orpo said he would leave the number of gambling units to be determined by Veikkaus; but the Left Alliance holds a stricter stance.

"Studies show that low-income earners play these games the most, and lose the most money," said Left parliamentary group chair Paavo Arhinmäki. "We have to seriously consider reducing the number of these games and where they should be placed."

Harry Harkimo from Movement Now said the correct amount of machines would be however many can be realistically monitored within designated Veikkaus gaming halls.

Panic button, user-specific limits

One feature of the identification process is that players can set a maximum game limit, such as how many minutes or euros he or she is allowed to spend at the slots per day or month.

Veikkaus online gambling now includes a prominent red "panic button" that players can press if they feel they cannot stop on their own. After the button is clicked, the game will no longer respond.

Veikkaus promised in mid-August to establish an ethics board to control problem gaming.

Elderly gamblers studied

The Turku University Hospital announced that it is researching the brains of elderly gamblers. Pension-age women are one of the main problem gambling demographics, along with young adult men.

The university study aims to develop a new medication that could help treat gambling addiction along with talk therapy.

The challenge in medicating a gaming addiction is that the active ingredients need to be isolated from the brain's reward system, the university said.

Statistics from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) show that one in five people in Finland knows someone in their close contacts who gambles too much on Veikkaus machines.

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