Finns Fear Delays As Reform Debates Evolve

September 15, 2023
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Industry officials have used a landmark online gambling conference in Finland to urge the government to get on with its plan to dissolve the country’s monopoly, as its aim of opening the market at the start of 2026 hangs in the balance.
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Industry officials have used a landmark online gambling conference in Finland to urge the government to get on with its plan to dissolve the country’s monopoly, as its aim of opening the market at the start of 2026 hangs in the balance.

Political will is unified behind a plan to reform the Finnish gambling market and even state-owned operator Veikkaus has called for an end to its own exclusive control over online gambling.

But stakeholders now fear that the government will miss its stated aim of launching the market in January 2026 and used a first of its kind event in Helsinki, The Finnish Gaming Conference, to implore the government to act swiftly.

“Now it’s time to move,” said Mikko Alkio, a competition law expert and partner at Roschier Attorneys, who was among the small group tasked by the government earlier this year to write a preliminary report on the future of gambling, which effectively rubber-stamped plans to dismantle the monopoly.

The coalition government elected in June has been mired in a racism scandal and battled through a vote of no-confidence last week. Grappling with the crisis has prevented progress on many key manifesto promises, including gambling reforms.

“Get on with it,” implored gambling consultant Birgitte Sand, who is the former head of the Danish gambling regulator and oversaw that country’s transition to a licensed market.

Regulatory models in Denmark, as well as Sweden, are expected to be borrowed from heavily as Finland builds its new gambling framework.

The ex-regulator implored Finland to begin work on drafting legislation and establishing an independent regulator now, or else likely miss its early 2026 target.

“It’s not about finding the most perfect car. It’s about getting a car and then finding a good mechanic,” said Sand.

“The big risk is that first we will write new gambling legislation and after that start to prepare new regulation,” agreed Jari Vähänen, an ex-Veikkaus executive and now consultant.

“If that will be the case we won’t have a system live in 2026. We should do preparation simultaneously, that’s what all of us should lobby together [for],” he said.

Vähänen predicted that Finland’s eventual new gambling act would draw heavily from Sweden’s law, enacted in 2019.

Both he and other experts at the conference said they expect the tax rate to fall to between 20 and 25 percent of gross gaming revenue and that there will be mandatory restrictions placed on customers, most likely in the form of deposit limits.

The event was bookended by Finnish members of parliament, including a keynote from former Olympic speed skater Mika Poutala, who now sits in parliament as a member of the Christian Democrats, which is part of Finland’s new right-wing coalition.

He called on his government colleagues to be “bold and ambitious” and said that lawmakers would take a cautious approach to advertising, “but we also have to open up the marketing so that the people and the companies that use the licensing system actually come to the market”.

Although political consensus is firmly behind reform and public support for the monopoly has waned, several Finnish gambling industry insiders expressed concern that the civil servants responsible for actually drafting the law broadly oppose the proposed changes.

This fear intensifies the need for strong leadership from the government to avoid further delays, they say.
 
“I think there is a big bunch of civil servants whose subjective view is [pro monopoly],” said Mika Kuismanen, the chief executive of the Finnish Online Gambling Association.

Speakers at the conference frequently disagreed on gambling policy and debated what the details of Finland’s new era of gambling should look like, but there was no dissent on the need for rapid action to meet the 2026 deadline.

“We have lost the first six months,” said Alkio. “We are running out of time.”

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