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Problem gamblers not helped by Veikkaus gambling monopoly, survey finds

People with gambling addictions are increasingly staying at home to make bets on the internet, according to a survey.

Peliautomaatti
File photo of a Veikkaus fruit machine. Image: Mikael Crawford / Yle

Finland needs to address the growing issue of problem gambling, according to a report about the results from a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

The survey aimed to measure the effects of the merger of the three state gaming agencies into a single firm, Veikkaus.

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.

The effective result was that it created a gambling monopoly in the country. No other firms or agencies are permitted to offer gambling services in Finland other than Veikkaus.

There were hopes in some circles that the merger - which received approval from the EU - would help to limit the damaging effects of gambling.

While the number of male problem gamblers has declined somewhat since the merger, the difficulties of serious problem gamblers appear to have deepened even further.

Story continues after photo.

Joku täyttää lottokuponkia.
File photo of person marking a Veikkaus lottery card. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

"It was definitely optimistic to think that something would have changed. Gambling has the same cultural and social functions for Finnish residents," social scientist Matilda Hellman said, adding that government policy plays an important role in regulating gambling.

"The fusion of Fintoto, Ray and Veikkaus hasn't particularly helped to regulate the sector," Hellman said.

In spite of the apparent decrease in men with gambling problems, there are other concerns, she said.

"The survey found that the situation for people with serious gambling addictions seems to have intensified and worsened," Hellman said.

In lieu of heading to the local supermarket, bar or casino, people seem to be increasingly gambling alone at home on the internet, according to the survey.

Earlier this year, Veikkaus announced plans to cut up to 400 jobs and that it was considering a phase-out of all its table gaming operations in restaurants. The firm said the job cuts are needed due to intensifying online competition and business shifting onto digital channels.

No conclusions yet

Hellman said it's difficult to determine how the monopoly arrangement has affected the situation just two years since it was established, and also not comparable to Finland's alcohol monopoly Alko, which has been in place for 90 years.

"There's a big appetite for gambling in Finland. We need to figure out how to address this politically. We're only in the starting blocks when it comes to the discussion about gaming policy," Hellman said.

Just over a quarter of the survey's respondents, some 27 percent, said they thought Veikkaus markets its gambling services with too many ads, an increase of 10 percent compared to a similar survey carried out last year.

However the majority of those surveyed, 62 percent, said they were satisfied with the amount of ads from the gambling monopoly.

Some 16 percent said that they felt prompted to gamble more by advertisements, while 65 percent said ads do not affect how much they gamble.

Citizens' initiative

Veikkaus' profits are distributed via number of government ministries and channelled to various public organisations and charities. Many of those groups rely on the funding, according to Hellman.

She said the public's faith in Veikkaus as a company is generally strong, but said it's criticised by some for making it too easy to gamble, and pointed to a citizens' initiative recently started calling for the removal of video gambling machines from grocery stores and petrol stations across the country.

The initiative, (in Finnish) has garnered more than 7,400 signatures of support since it started less than a week ago.

The survey on gambling was commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and carried out by the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in cooperation with Statistics Finland, the gambling problem prevention group Peliklinikka and Helsinki University.

The survey queried 2,624 people over the age of 18 from across the regions of Uusimaa, Pirkanmaa and Kymenlaakso.

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