February 19, 2010

Parliament egaming summit sees Unibet square off against Finnish monopolies

Finland's regulators and monopolies held a public meeting this week to debate new online gambling rules that have strengthened the hand of Finland’s state monopolies by allowing them to offer online poker, casino games and bingo, with Unibet the only operator invited to defend liberalisation.

At a summit at the Finnish Parliament’s Visitor's Centre in Helsinki moderated by Jyrki Kasvi, chairman of the Finnish parliament’s Information Society Group and a member of the Green Party, authorities and state operators sought to explain a new licence system. This will allow Finnish Slot Machine Association (RAY) and Finnish state lottery Veikkaus Oy to start offering online poker and casino games and online bingo respectively. The Lotteries Act Project could also include a ban on all gambling marketing in Finland.

Together with Fintoto, which offers horseracing betting, RAY and Veikkaus Oy are the only legal online operators in mainland Finland, but have been allowed to offer the new products in order to compete with private operators.

The meeting was also attended by Christophe Dhaisne, head of Western Europe at Unibet, which this week launched a business to business arm and revealed it is to provide a sportsbook solution to Ålands Penningautomatförening, or Paf, Finland’s only other legal operator, which is based on the country’s semi-autonomous Åland islands.

Speaking for RAY, spokeswoman Tuula Lehto said that the purpose of the company’s new online products is to provide a "national, reliable and responsible alternative for Finnish players". Dhaisne, by contrast, argued the merits of a liberalised market over the current monopoly system, which has survived a number of legal challenges on the basis that it better protects citizens from problem gambling.

Dhaisne said: “We believe that Finland’s actions are contradicting Article 49... the group that is pushing the new law has not even considered alternatives to the current regime, even though that is what is happening in Italy, France, Denmark Estonia… why that is, we don’t know.”

Unibet was the only private operator in attendance.

The Ministry of the Interior’s director of legislative affairs, Kimmo Hakonen, the minister leading the Lotteries Act Project responsible for the new rules, defended the monopoly status quo, arguing that it only clarifies earlier Finnish gambling legislation which is “equipment neutral," meaning that it applies as much to online gambling as land-based.

Also appearing were Mia-Veera Koivisto, project coordinator of problem gambling group A-Clinic Foundation; Paf product development manager Sonja Kangas; and the Åland Islands minister responsible for gaming issues, Roger Eriksson.

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