Finland Shuts Outlets After Virus Surge
As Finland faces a surge in coronavirus (Covid-19) cases, the nation’s gambling monopoly Veikkaus has made the difficult decision to begin closing down its gaming arcades and shutting off slot machines in particularly hard-hit regions of the country.
Dramatic Move Follows “Worrying” Rise in New Cases
The Finnish operator Veikkaus started to take action on the 26th of November, on the heels of the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health reporting a “worrying” rise in new cases and hospital admissions, particularly focused around the capital Helsinki. Case numbers rose by 906 to 2,541 across the country in the past week, signaling a two-week incidence rate of 75.8 cases per 100,000 citizens, which is up from 30 in the previous week. Regional authorities have therefore been urged to close all high-risk public spaces in regions where case numbers have been rising rapidly.
In the broader Helsinki region, all public meetings will be banned, while all school pupils and students 15 years and older are to shift to remote learning. Such drastic moves pushed Veikkaus to begin shutting down its retail outlets in 12 regions, which it said to have completed by Saturday, the 28th of November. Veikkaus’ senior vice president of channels and sales Jari Heino clarified that the operator has closely followed the development of the coronavirus situation and has therefore acted according to official guidelines, making the decision to close its retail offerings shortly after the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health revealed their guidelines.
Though no one yet knows how the situation will involve in the next weeks, says Heino, Veikkaus is confident all efforts will be made to suppress the second wave of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. The operator added that it would listen to specialists and continuously evaluate the current situation before making future decisions based on the science available.
Shutdown Follows Similar Decision During First Wave of Pandemic
The somewhat delayed but potentially inevitable second wave of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in Finland has caused virtually all sectors of public life to shut down completely, including retail casino gambling outlets. However this is not the first time the Finnish gambling monopoly Veikkaus has been forced to cease retail operations this year.
The first wave of the pandemic prompted the operator to shut down all land-based gaming from the 13th of March. Casinos only reopened as late as the 26th of June, while Veikkaus’ land-based slots only went back online from the 15th of July — the latter of which was joined by greater efforts to reduce the operator’s network size. With initial plans to take only 3,500 machines offline, Veikkaus will now aim to take 8,000 retail slots out of circulation by the end of the year.
A pilot program for account-based play was also launched and expanded to more regions earlier this month, requiring players to undergo a mandatory registration process before they are able to access slot machines. This offering was initially limited to only 100 machines.
Further measures undertaken by the operator Veikkaus to offset impacts caused by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic came in the form of a reduction in the maximum weekly loss limit for online lotteries, slots, bingo and table games, having been lowered from €2,000 to €500 during the pandemic. And while this provision was originally set to have expired on the 1st of October, it has now been extended to the end of 2020.
Pandemic Not the Sole Reason for Shutdowns and New Regulations
While the lasting coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has drastically altered the gambling, and indeed societal, landscape in Finland this year (not to mention the effects it will continue to have), it is far from being the only decisive factor leading to changes in gambling regulations and a lower amount of retail offerings. A report published by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs outlining potential changes to the gambling market to help promote responsible gambling in the country was released earlier this year. The suggestions laid out within were made with the hope of better protecting vulnerable consumers from the pitfalls associated with gambling.
Published by the Harm Assessment Group, a body that formed when the country’s 2001 Lottery Act was first established, the main conclusions that were drawn out in the report focused on the widespread availability of slot machines, as well as them being easily accessible, as contributing towards problem gambling amongst Finnish citizens. Despite these problems becoming potentially mitigated due to Veikkaus’ efforts to reduce the number of slot machines available in the country, the report noted that Finland would nevertheless be home to the second-highest number of slot machines per person in Europe.
As such, perhaps the most controversial point in the report came in the form of a suggestion to implement a blanket ban on advertising slot machines — a measure which has evidently not had much success, albeit in the form of lower retail machines being on offer by Veikkaus due to coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions.
Similarly impacting the effectiveness of responsible gambling measures in Finland are the long opening hours of venues offering physical casino machines, with Veikkaus’ own venues operating till 3AM, while venues outside of the monopoly’s control operating around the clock. Along with continued pressure to allow the licensing of private gambling operators, which Veikkaus is naturally in strict opposition to, the report identifies lax licensing measures that permit virtually any establishment to house slot machines as also being part of the issue.
Pivoting briefly to the iGaming sphere, potential measures to limit online problem gambling focused on offshore operators as posing the greatest threat to Finnish gamblers. The proposed solution here would be to offer licenses to more operators in order for regulators to have a greater overview of all active operators in the country. There was also discussion of implementing mandatory betting and deposit limits on Finnish consumers, with a temporary €500 deposit limit already in place for online casino games due to concerns that the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic could result in more unsustainable gambling practices.