Industry Confident Finnish Monopoly On Borrowed Time

November 4, 2022
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Finland could hand out licences for online gambling as soon as 2025, with the prevailing sentiment suggesting it is a case of when, not if, the nation’s monopoly is dismantled.

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Finland could hand out licences for online gambling as soon as 2025, with the prevailing sentiment suggesting it is a case of when, not if, the nation’s monopoly is dismantled.

Veikkaus, the state-owned monopoly operator in Finland, made waves in September when it publicly suggested it was time to think about opening up the market, after its share of the country’s online market dropped to around 50 percent.

Lobbyists are now extremely confident that the Finnish state will move to break up its online exclusive rights system and echo moves by Sweden and Denmark by licensing private companies.

That confidence was in full display over the two days of the Scandinavian Gambling Show in Copenhagen this week, which featured a Veikkaus executive again confirming that the operator now backed reform.

“Our market share is declining quite heavily. Now it’s approaching the critical 50 percent, [so] it was time to say out loud that there should be consideration of the system,” said Jan Hagelberg, chief product officer at Veikkaus, speaking on Thursday (November 3).

Beyond urging from the monopoly itself, there is now a belief that, for the first time, broad political consensus has shifted to the view that licensing is necessary.

With an election due in April 2023, the largest opposition party and poll leaders, the National Coalition, publicly backs removing the monopoly.

But behind closed doors, say lobbyists, even the incumbent government has been convinced it should press forward with reforms.

Consultant and former Veikkaus executive Jari Vähänen said that he has met with all of Finland’s major political parties in recent weeks, including the current coalition leader, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and now believes the process of changing the law could begin before April 2023.

“I know that all the parties have started preparations and I believe that something might happen even before the elections, that’s new info I got this week,” he said.

However, Vähänen said he believes that those parties battling against the National Coalition for votes, including the SDP, cannot publicly take a matching position while election campaigning continues.

A spokesperson for the party told VIXIO GamblingCompliance that its official position is still to back the monopoly.

“We have not been in favour of changing the system. We have said we think the monopoly is the best and it is the line put forward in the last party conference. Of course, we will have elections in April next year, then the new government will start,” said the spokesperson.

Vähänen, meanwhile, claimed he had met with the Prime Minister’s office this week and that officials were closely analysing likely outcomes from liberalising the entire Finnish gambling market. Although he suggested open licensing for online operators only, at least to begin with, remained the most likely outcome.

Also speaking at the conference in Copenhagen, an executive for Aland Islands operator Paf said the operator strongly supports a shift to a licensing system and backed the view that reforms now have political momentum.

“I think there are very strong movements that all parties could agree that it’s time to get rid of the gambling monopoly,” said Sverker Skogberg, senior vice president of public affairs at Paf.

Vähänen estimates that an open Finnish online market would most likely launch at the start of 2026, but he said that with encouragement from Veikkaus that timeline could be fast tracked by a year.

Hagelberg confirmed that the state-owned operator would prefer things to move quickly. “If the trend doesn’t change, if the regulation doesn’t work … then quicker is better for Veikkaus,” he said.

The rapid change in fortunes for dismantling one of the two remaining major European monopolies has taken even seasoned Nordic gambling observers by surprise.

As recently as a year ago, the government was preparing to introduce its new legislation that seemed designed to protect Veikkaus and political resolve to preserve the monopoly.

“I did not think I would live to see the end of the Finnish monopoly,” one conference attendee wryly remarked.

Additional reporting by Harrison Sayers.

The VIXIO GamblingCompliance Podcast · Episode 59: A Tale of Two Finlands

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