February 10, 2010

Finland gets fussy about online poker adverts

Finland has a government-endorsed national gambling monopoly. All legal gambling in the country falls under the control of either RAY (Slot Machine Association), Veikkaus (mainly lotteries and sports betting), or Fintoto (totalisator). Any gambling services in Finland which are not operated by one of these three groups are operating without a state license, and are illegal.

Advertising any gambling company other than these three state entities is also a violation of Finland’s Lottery Act. In recent weeks, the South Karelia District Court in Lappeenranta has been dealing with a case that revolves around unlawful gambling advertisements. The offender is the company that produces the Finnish newspaper Metropoli, which ran adverts for a foreign-based online poker sites in Finland.

The case sets a new precedence for the control of foreign operators, who have become more and more forceful with targeting Finnish players in recent months. This has frustrated the government to no end, since Finnish gambling laws cannot be upheld across international borders – this means that players are free to utilize foreign-hosted gambling sites, and that the Finnish government cannot do much about it. Now, there is at least some legal recourse the government can take against companies that try to challenge the Finnish gambling monopoly through local advertising.

Finland’s gambling monopoly is contentious. While the three state gambling groups pour a large percentage of their annual EUR 2.5 billion profits back into Finnish society, the fact that the government is actively trying to prevent foreign internet gambling sites from reaching Finnish players is often seen as a breach of EU trade laws.

The source of the problem appears to be the lack of legally licensed online gambling sites in Finland. The government seems to understand this, as they just gave RAY permission to launch actual online casino games as well as internet bingo and keno – the first of their kind in Finland. These new services are expected to launch in August 2010.

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