Finland's Supreme Court Says Fantasy Sports Belong To Monopoly

June 7, 2022
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A long-running dispute over whether popular fantasy sports games are legal under Finland’s monopoly gambling law has ended with victory for the state.

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UPDATE 10:52 - Added a response from the National Police Board

A long-running dispute over whether popular fantasy sports games are legal under Finland’s monopoly gambling law has ended with victory for the state.

Finnish media group Sanoma has, since 1995, operated a game in which players pick a team of ice hockey players from either the country’s national league or North America’s NHL and compete to see whose squad performs the best.

The contests require a participation fee and award cash prizes, features which gambling regulator the National Police Board (NPB) argue should make them the exclusive purview of state-owned monopoly operator Veikkaus.

Investigations into their legality have been underway since at least 2008, but it took until 2019 for the board to issue a prohibition order and a fine of €300,000.

Sanoma appealed that enforcement, eventually landing the case in the Supreme Administrative Court, which gave definitive backing to the regulator in May this year.

“It was an undeniable fact that skilled and analytical participants who invested a considerable amount of time to the fantasy sports games outperformed participants who picked the players randomly,” explained Antti Koivula, a consulting legal advisor at online gambling specialist firm Legal Gaming.

But despite acknowledging this, the court took the view that “random factors outside the participant’s control had a significant importance too” and found that the NPB was right to block the games.

Jari Vahanen, a former Veikkaus executive now of Finnish Gambling Consultants, noted that even though skill usually played a factor, it was possible for a fantasy sports player to win solely based on chance events such as injuries.

“As this is the case, this is a commercial lottery activity, which only Veikkaus is licensed [for] in Finland,” he said.

Although Veikkaus has come under pressure within Finland, at a political level the monopoly model retains fundamental government backing.

And recently passed reforms to Finnish gambling law have only served to strengthen Veikkaus’ grip on the market.

“The Supreme Administrative Court’s decision hardly came as a surprise,” said Koivula.

“The Lotteries Act definition of gambling is extremely broad, from which a good example is that even an ice fishing competition and an auction were previously deemed to fall within it.

“Nevertheless, the decision yet further strengthened the NPB’s authority and it remains to be seen what is the next competition or event after which they’ll go next.”

A spokesperson for the regulator said: "The National Police Board will take action if there are gambling games that are run in or aimed at Finland by someone other than Veikkaus Oy. Gambling game is defined in Lotteries Act as a game in which participants may win a money prize based in full or in part on chance and in which there is a charge for participation."

"The ruling makes it clear that fantasy sports contain an element of chance and are therefore gambling if there are also money prizes to be won and a charge for participation. If offshore gambling company provides such a service aimed at Finland, National Police Board will view it illegal providing of gambling."

Despite the all-consuming national law, a cohort of offshore operators, largely based out of Malta, continue to compete with the state-owned company in Finland, arguing they are free to do so under European Union law.

The police board rejects this view and continues to take action in an attempt to limit unlicensed online gambling in the country.

Vahanen, who recently co-founded the Finnish Gambling Association, which will campaign to dismantle the monopoly, admits that “regulation has significantly tightened” since 2017.

But, he argues, “it is likely that the government that will take office after the April 2023 parliamentary elections will seriously consider changing the legislation to a licence-based system”.

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