Featured photo by Sascha Düser from Pexels
In the era of COVID-19, many businesses are struggling to make ends meet. Some are opening, arguably, too early for safety. One industry not taking such risks is the gambling industry in Finland, and the organization leading the way is the Finnish government agency Veikkaus.
Finland Is Home to Avid Gamblers
When people talk about Finland, they think of the beautiful Northern lights, Santa Claus, three million saunas, and the Midnight Sun Festival. They might also have heard about mysterious little creatures called Moomins, as well as some great heavy metal bands and the largest archipelago.
What they seldom consider, however, is that Finland is also home to the most avid gamblers. Almost 80 percent of Finns gamble and do so with abandon. In fact, each Finn spends an average of about 390 euros on domestic gambling each year.
Finns See Gaming as Civic Duty
Veikkaus earned a record turnover of 3.2 billion euros in 2017. Its online casinos attract around 700,000 players every week. Moreover, they have welcomed more than 3,000 new players during the Coronavirus pandemic. Finnish players are so fond of wagering online that some of them would even like to start their own online casinos.
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The Finnish government is highly supportive of its citizens’ gambling activities and the gambling industry. The main reason for such an open-minded attitude to gambling in Finland is historical. In the early 1920’s, gambling was against the law in Finland. There were no lotteries, no horse races, no brick-and-mortar casinos in the country.
However, attracted to gaming, Finns traveled to try their luck in games of chance in neighboring Sweden, where gambling was permitted.
Officials were unwilling to see Finnish markkas flow out of the country, especially to Sweden. At the time, Finland had disputes with Sweden over the Aland Islands. So the Finnish government decided to permit lotteries and horse racing under the banner of patriotism.
To gamble in Finland rather than in Sweden meant to support the motherland. Since then, gambling in Finland has been associated with civic duty. Whether Finnish gamblers play in land-based casinos or in virtual ones—or in their more recent variety, fast casinos, called in Finnish “pikakasinot”—they always do so in the name of their country and for their fellow Finns.
The Finnish Gambling Industry Benefits All
The Finnish government continues to support the association of gambling with patriotism both ideologically and financially.
For decades, Veikkaus’s revenue has provided a substantial flow of money into the Finish civil society. The income equals nearly one billion euros a year. Money spent by Finns in casinos, on slot machines, lotteries, and horse races then provides for the development of sports, culture, arts, education, scientific research, social welfare, and health.
This is a win-win situation. People play their favorite games either in casinos or online. The money they win goes into their pockets. However, the money they lose funds common-good causes. As Finns like to say, whether you win or lose in casinos, a Finn always gains.
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Not Everyone Agrees
Dissenting voices claim that this optimistic narrative promoted by Veikkaus is self-serving. People critical of the government’s support of gambling say that the empirical data recently collected has revealed significant economic and social costs of gambling. This is especially true for people who are already struggling.
This criticism may contain a grain of truth, to be sure. But there is no denying that Veikkaus often acts to its own detriment in order to benefit the Finnish people.
Veikkaus Responded Quickly to Covid-19
When the coronavirus hit Finland in March, Veikkaus immediately shut down all its gambling premises. They stopped gambling industry business at Casino Helsinki, Feel Vegas sites, and its 20,000 slot machines scattered across the country. All public events organized in casinos were cancelled, and lotteries were suspended.
What is even more commendable is that, unlike American casino operators, Veikkaus is not in a hurry to reopen casinos. Even now, when the national lockdown in Finland has largely been lifted, they err on the side of public safety.
Aware that reopened casinos might become a hotbed of infection, the gambling agency is waiting. Their goal is mid-July. They want to see whether the removal of the lockdown will bring a second wave of the disease, as doctors fear.
The Post-Covid-19 Gambling Industry in Finland Will Be Different
Until then, the Finnish land-based casinos will remain closed and slot machines will stay unplugged. Veikkaus also announced that it would not bring all its existing machines into operation, even after they welcomed players to use them.
About 8,000 slot machines across the country will be removed from stores, gas stations, kiosks, and restaurants to keep Finns’ addiction to slot games under control. Although the removal of so many machines will definitely reduce Veikkaus’s profit, the agency is willing to make less money to help Finns avoid gambling addiction.
It is also expected that when Veikkaus reopens its land-based casino sites, it will reorganize them in keeping with quarantine regulations, as other casino operators have done in America and elsewhere.
Most probably, gamblers will be asked to wear face masks and keep social distancing. There will be acrylic glass barriers between slot machines and between players at poker tables. Dice, cards, and chips will be sanitized.
Also, there will be hand sanitizers located in casinos and stores. Even if this means reduced gambling volumes and smaller profits, the gambling agency will allow fewer people to enter the casino in order to rein in the spread of the coronavirus.