Finland & Ã…land Debate Online Gambling

Published Friday, April 24, 2009 -

Planned reforms of the Finnish Lotteries Act introduces further restrictions to a gaming regime that is already one of the most restrictive in the EU. It is speculated that Finland's forthcoming gambling reforms will restrict the scope of operations in Ã…land. Ã…land is a Swedish-speaking region of Finland, which consists of an archipelago of more than 6,700 islands in the Baltic Sea, It is home to about 27,000 people. Ã…land enjoys a level of autonomy and self-government that no other region of Finland enjoys.

Currently Åland has only one licensed gaming operator, PAF, (Ålands Penningautomatförening) which constitutes a monopolistic system not unlike that of Finland and neighbouring Sweden. There ia a minor exception in the field of skill games where the license is held jointly by PAF and GamArena, an Åland-registered subsidiary of the Swedish game developer Jadestone in which PAF is a majority shareholder.

The online activities and ambitions of PAF have led to jurisdictional confrontations between Ã…land and Finland in the past. PAF's most important geographic market, however, is mainland Finland, where its activities have been deemed illegal. CEO of PAF, Lars Porko commented earlier this year, if the Lotteries Act reform takes place as proposed, the whole ground where PAF has been standing, disintegrates. It is thought that PAF may just up and leave for another jurisdiction like Malta but with a company as deeply rooted in Ã…land and some 400 people on its payroll, so that seems unlikely.

The Ã…land region is thinking about implementing an open licensing regime for online gambling. If this happens it could have repercussions in gaming circles far beyond the island's Baltic home. Ã…land is only indirectly, through Finland, represented in the European parliament. In the parliament of Ã…land in March, Premier of Ã…land's government, Viveka Eriksson, confirmed that Ã…land is prepared to introduce a licensing regime.

Ã…land possesses many of the qualities that are prerequisite for establishing a reliable licensing regime such as a highly developed infrastructure, educated population, and geographical proximity to Nordic, Baltic and possibly Russian markets. Much of Ã…land's potential appeal as a licensing regime would be dependent on its EU membership which is connected to Helsinki. There are many political questions to be answered before the dream becomes a reality in Ã…land.

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