Date: 03.08.2023

by Maciej Akimow

Last update: 22.08.2023 13:04

Antti Koivula: The reason why Veikkaus has been suffering is due to the absurdity of the Finnish law

Are you ready to dive deep into the world of Finnish iGaming? Hold tight, because we’re about to take you on an exhilarating journey through the thoughts and insights of one of the most prominent figures in the industry, Antti Koivula. In this upcoming interview, we’re peeling back the curtain on the Finnish iGaming market. We’ll tap into Antti’s crystal ball to explore the predictions and possibilities for Finland’s iGaming future, including the future demonopolization.

Maciej Akimow: The Finnish gambling market is facing changes in regulations. Could you tell me more about how it looks at the moment? Which segments are under monopoly, and which allow private companies to participate? We can talk about the entire gambling industry, not just igaming.

Antti Koivula: Currently, Finland has a gambling monopoly in place, under which the state-owned exclusive rights holder, Veikkaus, is the sole entity allowed to provide and market gambling products. Paradoxically, at the same time, it is legal for Finns to gamble online on foreign gambling websites. It is also not prohibited for foreign operators to accept Finnish customers.

This has led to a situation in which Finland has a gambling monopoly in theory, but in practice, the situation is very different online. The figures illustrate the status quo quite well – the exclusive rights holder has roughly a 50% share of the overall Finnish online market, and it’s falling. If we look at the most competitive markets, such as digital casino games and digital sports betting, the market share is much lower, estimated to be somewhere between 10-30%, depending on the product.

The monopoly on the casino market is expected to be abolished in Finland by 2026. Do you think this goal is real?

Yes, it very much is. Finland had parliamentary elections in the beginning of this April, and the new government’s programme, published on June 16, clearly states that Finland will have a partial licensing system in place at the latest in the beginning of 2026. In Finland, the government in power has usually followed its own government programme more or less to the letter, and there’s no reason to believe this would be an exception. Furthermore, the fact that there’s a broad political agreement regarding the necessity of the change, even among the opposition parties, helps the cause.

What was the main point in the discussion about the need to start talks and then abolish the casino monopoly?

The monopoly operator, Veikkaus, initiated the discussion last autumn as a reflection of their rapidly decreasing market share, and it didn’t take long for the politicians to understand the necessity for the change and to be on board. The reason why Veikkaus has been suffering is due to the absurdity of the Finnish law. As described above, Veikkaus doesn’t de facto have a monopoly online, but at the same time, the strict responsible gambling measures only affect them, causing considerable competitive disadvantage.

It is debatable if it could have been possible to take corrective measures by making the monopoly even stricter, but that should have been done already years ago. As that boat had already sailed, there weren’t really any other alternatives from Veikkaus’ perspective: either advocate a system change under which the competition will be similarly scrutinized or continue losing market share until the monopoly’s EU law justification deteriorates, leading to an even worse result.

From the decision-makers; perspective, everything comes down to two things: money and gambling problems. Under the existing system, Veikkaus; gambling proceeds have been deteriorating while problem gambling hasn’t decreased. The new partial licensing system has the potential to improve both.

Do you notice increased interest in the market from foreign operators? At the iGaming Next conference, changes were an important topic that many people discussed. 

Yes, the interest in the Finnish market has clearly increased for rather obvious reasons. Finns gamble a lot, and only a few years ago, we were the top country in gambling losses per capita in Europe and third or fourth in the World, depending on the year. Now that standing might have fallen a bit, but regardless, Finland is still very much in the top end of the table. Combined with the previously described legal situation and the fact that foreign operators are not currently required to pay any gambling tax to Finland, and it’s not even possible if they would like to, Finland is seen as a very lucrative market.

Now that the market is finally opening, those already active in the Finnish market naturally seek to guarantee a good starting position for the licensing market. On the other hand, the market is now becoming an option for those who wish to operate only in licensed markets. For those interested in the Finnish market, it is advisable to prepare for the change well in advance and to seek local advice to provide factual information to support the decision-making process.

What, if any, are the changes likely to look like? What can we expect? Can Finland copy some legal solutions from countries like Denmark?

Finland tends to look after its Nordic neighbours, especially Sweden and Denmark, no matter what area of life is under discussion. So yes, we can expect something very similar that has already been established in those two countries, though the Finnish system is not going to be an exact copy-paste of either of those. When it comes to the actual characteristics, it has only been decided that the licensing system will cover digital casino games and digital sports
betting.

I’m anticipating a 20-25% tax on GGR, the licensing price to be between EUR 50k-75k, the license to be valid for five years, the number of licensees to be unlimited, a centralized blocking system for problem gamblers, prohibition of cryptocurrencies, notable marketing restrictions, and PSP and DNS blocking on unlicensed operators. When it comes to a possible cooling-off period and introducing a B2B licensing along with the B2C licensing, they are both possible, and
I’ve previously said that they appear even likely. However, in light of new information, I’ve grown more and more sceptical whether it is possible to include them as the schedule is tight.

In such a case, is the draft of the changes submitted to public and industry consultations? How will the implementation of the changes look in practice?

The draft law will most certainly go through a public consultation phase; however, it remains to be seen whether the industry and other interest groups will really be heard. During the past Lotteries Act reformations, the decisions on the substance of the law were de facto made prior to the consultation phase, thus undermining its impact. Furthermore, traditionally Finnish decision-makers have given very little weight to the statements of others apart from Veikkaus and their beneficiaries, which hopefully will now change.

Finally, I would like to ask you if you have any doubts about the upcoming changes, or are you rather calm about the whole legislative process?

I have no doubts at all that the change will now take place. None whatsoever. That being said, delays are always possible with significant legislative reforms, no matter that the government program presents a deadline of January 1, 2026, for the change.

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