UPDATED ON 13/12/2021: Correction that the prediction by Antti Koivula and Minna Ripatti is referring to the possible introduction of a licensing system in Finland and is not directly linked to the opinion of the Constitutional Committee.
The Finnish government's long-awaited Lottery Act amendment proposal has hit a major payment blocking roadblock, following the release of the Constitutional Committee’s opinion on the proposal on December 1.
Separate to the opinion, Minna Ripatti, the founding partner of Legal Gaming, predicted on social media that Finland could end up replacing the current monopoly with a licensing regime in around three years.
Antti Koivula, a consulting legal advisor at Legal Gaming, said he could also see a licensing regime being introduced in the country within four to five years.
The current proposal looked at by the opinion protects the existing exclusive rights model, requires all gambling advertising to be “moderate”, allows for sports-betting advertising and bans ads for “harmful” forms of gambling such as online slots.
The bill also proposes the introduction of new payment blocking measures, which is the main point of contention highlighted by the committee, over its potential to infringe on the freedom to conduct business under the Finnish constitution.
“The attempt to protect exclusive rights, even if indirectly linked to the objectives of the prevention and control of gambling harm underlying the bill, does not constitute a sufficient basis for such a far-reaching restriction of fundamental rights,” the committee wrote in its opinion.
Blocking the initiation of payments is in line with the constitution, according to the committee.
However, the issue arises when it comes to blocking the paying out of players' winnings, considering hundreds of Finns are estimated to make a living from online poker and sports betting.
Therefore, the opinion states that the bill cannot advance until the section containing the existing payment blocking measures is deleted.
VIXIO GamblingCompliance contacted Finnish gambling monopoly Veikkaus for a comment, but a spokesperson for the company said it would not comment on the law until it is signed off.
The committee recommended the appropriateness of payment blocking in relation to its practical implementation and the objectives of the law should be carefully considered.
“According to the report received by the committee, there is no research evidence on the effectiveness of blocking fees in preventing or reducing gambling harassment, although the impact may be deterrent, with a particular focus on casual gamblers,” read the opinion.
Koivula said there are now three possible outcomes: most likely the payment blocking proposal will be deleted; however, it could also be removed and carried out as a separate law, or a constitutional legislative procedure could be launched “which would mean years of delays”.
He predicts all three of these scenarios will delay the Lottery Act proposal.
The Lottery Act amendment was submitted to parliament on September 23, after being stalled for several months when it was received by the European Commission after Malta submitted a detailed opinion.
Most of the amendments were scheduled to enter into force at the beginning of 2022.
The regulation on payment blocking was scheduled to enter into force at the beginning of 2023.
The likely delay to the proposal being passed could lead to the bill facing an uncertain future, with parliamentary elections in 2023 potentially delivering a new right-wing government focused on increasing tax revenue from the gambling sector as opposed to reducing problem gambling.