The findings came as the city used an undercover group of 18 to 22 year-olds to test the ability of minors to use gambling games and to purchase alcohol as well as liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes. The trials for sales of prohibited substances and activities to underage shoppers ran from November to December last year.
Altogether, the test subjects visited a total of 38 sales outlets on most weekdays. According to guidelines from the Finnish Grocery Trade Association, sales personnel should verify the ages of all customers who appear to be under the age of 30 if they purchase alcohol or nicotine products.
ID checks are recommended for customers who look to be under 23 if they attempt to use slot machines. However the law stipulates an 18-year age limit for gambling games, alcohol and nicotine products.
Poor supervision of slot machines
Participants in the test reported that only 12 percent of sales staff asked for ID when the secret shoppers tried to play on slot machines. Meanwhile, just 19 percent of cashiers at the till asked the test customers for ID when they attempted to buy lottery tickets.
“Now this puts Veikkaus [the state gambling monopoly] on the spot, because there has been no improvement over the past year,” observed Jaana Markkula, development manager with the National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL
She suggested that the gaming machines could remain offline until youthful-looking customers proved they were not minors. Markkula said that another option would be to provide additional training to staff to ensure more effective supervision of slot machines.
Veikkaus: Results "disappointing"
Veikkaus’ Responsible Gaming Manager Hannu Rinkinen acknowledged that the results of the undercover survey were nothing to brag about.
“The results are much the same as our own tests, which were conducted in the same way. Twelve percent isn’t very flattering,” he added.
Similarly, he described as “disappointing” the finding that just 19 percent of merchants checked for proof of age when customers wanted to buy lottery tickets at the till.
Rinkinen pointed out that according to a recent school survey published in spring 2017, there has been a decline in students using slot machines.
However data showed only slight changes in gaming habits among teens. In that survey some 7.1 percent of eighth and ninth graders said they gambled once or twice weekly. Back in 2015, the corresponding proportion was 7.2 percent.
Meanwhile the decline among students in vocational colleges was somewhat greater at 1.4 percent points.
Rinkinen: Incentivise effective supervision
The survey found that minors were able to gain easy access to slot machines when they were located in kiosks and store foyers. Cashiers can shut down the machines without leaving their stations if they suspect an underage customer is playing. However it may be difficult if the machines are not easily visible and they cannot see the player’s face.
Rinkinen said that machine blocking devices were used 1.5 million times last year. He speculated that there are more than 18,000 gaming machines in stores, kiosks and petrol stations so there is room for sales personnel to intervene in underage playing more often.
He added that every year Veikkaus trains roughly 5,000 people to monitor gaming and slot machines in Finland. He said that the solution to the problem identified in the Helsinki city survey is supervision and the development of an incentive scheme.
“We are now focusing on training and awareness. Let’s try to reward effective supervision in some small way. Not with a trip around the world but via a positive reward,” he concluded.