Finland Takes First Concrete Steps To Discard Online Monopoly

October 24, 2023
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Finland has officially kicked off the process that will dismantle the country’s online gambling monopoly and replace it with a licensing system.
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Finland has officially kicked off the process that will dismantle the country’s online gambling monopoly and replace it with a licensing system.

The Finnish Ministry of the Interior published an announcement on Tuesday (October 24) indicating it has begun a formal project to define the terms of its new gambling legislation.

The ministry team will lay out everything from the tax rate to the number of licences available, as the country bids goodbye to its decades-old monopoly system.

State-owned operator Veikkaus, which currently has total control of the entire legal market, will retain sole operation of land-based gambling under the new regime, but has itself been pushing for the government to open up the online market for more than a year.

Veikkaus fears its online market share has dropped to around 50 percent in the wake of increased competition from operators licensed in other EU nations, particularly Malta.

The government project will establish specifically which forms of gambling are to be covered by new licences, what tools will need to be offered to consumers to protect them from gambling harm and rules for gambling advertising, the ministry said.

A strategy for how the country’s gambling regulator will combat gambling offered from outside the licensing system will also be included.

The official term of the project ends on December 31, 2025, but officials say they intend to present the government’s plan for new gambling legislation to parliament in Spring 2025.

The ministry had previously targeted January 2026 as the market launch date, but several Finnish stakeholders fear that the start of licensing could be delayed following broader political turmoil in Finland.

The country’s newly elected right-wing coalition government has been dogged by racism allegations, and tackling the crisis has effectively held up many other aspects of government business.

Speaking at a gambling conference in Helsinki last month, Mikko Alkio, a competition law expert and partner at Roschier Attorneys, urged the government to act quickly. “Now it’s the time to move,” he said.

Alkio was among a small group that authored a preliminary report into reforming Finland’s gambling market at the government’s request, a document that is likely to prove influential as civil servants spend the next few months crafting legislation.

That report laid out several possible options for reform, but ultimately recommended the government push ahead with an open model, such as the ones opted for in Sweden and Denmark during the past decade.

However, it also raised several possibilities that have the industry on edge, including the possibility of a so-called “cooling-off” period for companies that have been active on the Finnish grey market in recent years.

The strategy, and its name, were coined in the Netherlands in 2019 after the Dutch government forced grey market companies to sit out several months of the newly opened market as penance for operating in the country without a licence.

“The most important thing is finding a solution that achieves an optimal balance between business opportunities for licensed companies and responsible gaming. This is influenced by taxation, marketing and gambling limits and other responsibility requirements,” said Jari Vähänen, a former Veikkaus executive and now advisor with The Finnish Gambling Consultants. 

“Another important thing is to ensure sufficient resources for the regulator. This means sufficiently competent staff and functioning new supervision systems. The planning and preparation of the regulator's activities should start as soon as possible, not until after the legislation has been completed,” he said.

Legal advisor Antti Koivula, with Finland-based Legal Gaming, said: “It is extremely important that the legislative process has now been formally initiated. The snowball is finally in motion, and the real work begins. The schedule is ambitious; there is no denying it. However, it is well within the realm of possibility to reach the goal in time.” 

Vähänen was similarly tentative on the proposed schedule, but suggested any delays will be relatively minor.

“The goal is to complete the new legislation in the spring of 2025, after which a round of opinions will be organised, EU notification will be sought and the parliament will approve it.” 

“Based on that, January 1, 2026, is still a theoretically possible schedule, but there will be a real rush. If I had to guess, summer 2026 seems more realistic,” he said.

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