‘A Finn always wins,’ has been a long-term slogan of the gambling industry in Finland. Those four words neatly sum up the country’s attitude towards gambling and the core reasoning behind its incredible popularity.
Punching Above its Weight
The population of Finland is around 5.5 million, a little more than half that of the city of London. Despite its size, Finland has established itself as a European powerhouse in online gaming.
On the list of the world’s biggest gamblers, per capita, Finland ranks fourth; the highest of any European nation. A survey taken in 2015 revealed over 80% of the small country’s population gamble in one form or another.
At the end of 2020, the online casino and gambling industry in Finland was worth €2 billion a year. This number includes online slots, live casino, sports betting, bingo, and all types of online gambling activity.
At the heart of Finland’s enthusiasm for gambling, both online and off, is the state-held monopoly of the sector. To understand how this came to be, let’s look at the history and evolution of gambling in Finland.
As it was around much of the world, gambling was broadly illegal in Finland at the start of the 1920s. After World War I and the Finnish Civil War, the newly independent nation began establishing its new directions and ideals.
Finland noticed that much of its population had begun gambling in neighbouring Sweden where the activity was already legal. Understandably, the government was keen to stem this flow of Finnish money going out of the country.
In response, Finland legalized many forms of gambling, including betting on horses, slot machines, and money lotteries. Finns embraced these new freedoms and entertainments and private industries began to grow quickly.
It was what the Finnish government did next that would set the tone for gambling in the country until today. Through a number of steps, the Finnish government effectively nationalised the gambling industry in their country.
They established Raha-automaattiyhdisty (RAY) and Veikkaus which sought to place the government as the regulatory head of all gambling activity. This meant not only did the government control how people could gamble in Finland, but it also controlled all the profits too.
The vast revenues generated from gambling were put back into the government and used for public spending in other areas. Today this amount totals over €1 billion a year, plus €200 million in tax, around 2% of the national budget.
With this system in place, the government encouraged citizens to gamble by bringing in that slogan: ‘a Finn always wins.’ The idea was that, even if you lose, your money is going to help your countrymen and your society.
Through this, Finland grew a culture in which it seemed almost the moral duty of its citizens to gamble. Slot machines could be found everywhere; shops, cafes, gas stations, workplaces, even hospitals, something unique in European nations.
Interestingly, this heavy government control and regulation has become something of a double-edged sword for the online industry in Finland. The country has a relatively low number of land-based casinos, so access to online providers is key.
Finland’s first legal online casino was launched in 1996 by Veikkaus Oy, with PAL (Play Among Friends) joining in 2007. These sites, and others officially licensed by the regulatory bodies, offer top-line gambling and live casino options for Finnish citizens.
As an affluent and technologically advanced European nation, access to advanced online gaming is easy for Finland’s citizens. Ownership of the latest mobile technology is widespread aiding a quick transition to the latest trend of mobile gaming.
Combining these elements of easy access and an ingrained gambling culture makes Finland uniquely placed to embrace online gambling. It’s no surprise there has been such a huge enthusiasm and uptake for live casino and online slots.
To continue keeping Finnish gambling money in Finland, the state prohibits any marketing by foreign suppliers to its populace. It does not, however, block access to international sites on its internet networks.
There are also no laws preventing Finnish citizens signing up to foreign sites, or prohibiting those sites from accepting Finns. This is in part due to a culture of personal choice that prioritises personal freedoms for private citizens.
The vast selection of choice available to modern gamers is a large part of the growing sector’s appeal. The convenience of the best mobile gaming platforms and integrated apps is also something players are continually seeking out.
The Task Ahead
The challenge now is for Finland to keep its hugely profitable grip on the gambling habits of its citizens. As players now have access to the best providers and games from all around the world, Finland must remain competitive.
This means keeping ahead of the latest trends, options, games, win ratios, prizes, and delivery systems. If its domestic providers cannot rival the biggest and most advanced international companies, the government’s share of revenue’s will fall.
The question is, can a system under state control react and innovate as quickly as one opened to private markets? Is the Finnish gaming industry, so far an inspirational success story, holding itself back by sticking to 20th Century thinking?
The government has given no indication it wants to change a system that has worked so well for so long. Experts, however, expect it to keep a close eye on how the industry develops in neighbouring states.
What comes next for the phenomenally successful gambling industry in Finland, both online and off? We will have to wait and see.