Lawyer Antti Koivula and Better Change’s top team dive into potential changes in Finnish regulation and key themes in the UK, including the RET levy and the industry’s perception, respectively
Antti Koivula, legal advisor at Legal Gaming Attorneys at Law
Finnish market keeps growing in 2024, but the majority of the growth goes offshore
Let’s begin with the safest bet, as this is a no-brainer really. The Finnish online gambling market has grown year after year, having doubled in the last decade, and there’s no end in sight for this trend.
The general trend of digitalisation drives players from retail to online, and heavily decreased slot machine gambling further accelerates the trend. The exclusive rights operator Veikkaus struggles with competitiveness in online casino games and online sports betting due to the handicaps created by the current legislation, causing the growth to go to offshore operators.
While a number of bigger foreign operators will momentarily slow down with their Finnish operations in anticipation of the licensing system, that space will be filled with other brands with more aggressive strategies.
Delays to shift to licensing system will become evident during 2024
It was initially stated in the government programme in June 2023 that Finland will introduce a multi-licence model “by January 1, 2026, at the latest”. The summer was wasted on the government’s internal crises, and the reform project was officially launched in November 2023.
The Ministry of Interior represented a more specific schedule at the end of November, and none of the persons involved in the reform process consider the schedule as realistic – and neither do I. Due to political sensitiveness, the aim will not be officially changed; however, it will prove impossible already during 2024 with several road bumps ahead. While in the fastest possible scenario, the new law might be in force in the beginning of 2026, the licensing process itself requires an additional six months or so, and there are other potential slowdowns en route.
The National Police Board will tighten its grip of unauthorised gambling marketing
The NPB imposed a prohibition order and a conditional fine of €2.4m for Betsson Group company BML Group Ltd in April 2023, and BML appealed to Helsinki Administrative Court a month later.
The Court granted BML an interim decision, which prohibited enforcement of the sanctions for the duration of the appeal, while the Court is expected to deliver its decision sometime between the summer and Christmas 2024. While I see BML having good chances in certain minor issues, the NPB undoubtedly has the upper hand with the main issues, and I predict they’ll be victorious.
This would serve as a serious warning for other offshore operators currently targeting Finland and boost the morale in the NPB, which I predict will reflect in their supervision activities.
Victoria Reed, Rob Mabbett and David Richardson, Better Change
Rob Mabbett, Better Change engagement director: A land-based resurgence
I think we will see a continued resurgence of the offline industry in the UK. Our offline sector suffered massively as a result of the Covid lockdowns, being one of the last business sectors allowed to re-open their doors. This, in turn with restrictions on travel, the effects of Brexit on the hospitality industry and the growth of online gambling, has meant a lean few years.
The white paper makes a number of recommendations which aim to level up online and offline gaming including additional machine space, restrictions on online stakes and the consideration of the additional cost of running a land-based business when calculating the contributions of the upcoming gambling levy.
To add to this; cashless payment solutions for gaming machines are being explored bringing the sector in line with just about every other business in the leisure industry and the public opinion of the proposed online affordability checks make the anonymity of betting with cash all the more appealing, something the online industry need to take very seriously.
David Richardson, Better Change head of strategic partnerships: Gambling harm levy will divide the industry
There will be a split in the provision of services for those at risk of gambling harm. Nobody wants to see people harmed by gambling but how we go about it splits the room.
The destination of funds generated by the introduction of a mandatory levy in the UK seems to be headed towards the public health sector. While the provision of specialist care is of huge importance, the powers that be, namely the NHS, are strongly opposed to working with gambling operators.
So where does this leave the work that fights to prevent gambling harm? Surely this work cannot be carried out without the industry’s collaboration, as it is with operators where the primary interactions with players will take place.
Governance of both these strands is fundamental but very different. While a robust clinical framework is essential to safeguard those receiving care there also needs to be effective, evidence-based evaluation of the work to help prevent harm. This happened organically previously with an amount of voluntary industry contributions being made but in the future without the voluntary element there needs to be a plan which ensures adequate provision for all strands of work.
Victoria Reed, Better Change co-founder: The industry to repair its image
Its time for the industry to fight back and repair it’s often unfairly tarnished reputation. I am proud to have worked in the gambling industry for over 10 years and in that time I have seen a number of initiatives and collaborative projects develop to help make gambling safer.
The industry itself has spend hundreds of millions of pounds supporting various organisations in this cause along with investing in specific safer gambling roles within businesses and promoting safer gambling through marketing. As a result, gambling harm has been reduced in this country and it continues to be a heavily regulated industry which entertains million as well as providing jobs and income into the economy.
The industry has become an easy target for anti-gambling campaigners who have used misinformation especially around the prevalence of gambling harm and gambling-related suicides to further their cause, but this does nothing to support the people who genuinely need help. This year I would like to see the industry be more pro-active in evidencing the positive contribution it makes.