Betting in Finland

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The Lottery Act (491/65) of 1966 is the basic statute governing gambling in Finland as a tripartite monopoly system. It classifies bingo, casino and slot machines offering money and commodities as prizes as lotteries. Other types of money games, including sports and horse race betting, are also permitted under state sanction and all forms play prominent roles in funding nonprofit activities.

Three specific entities have been granted the right as monopolies to offer wagering opportunities nationwide in Finland. Oy Veikkaus Ab presides over the Finnish National Lottery and offers scratchcard games, directing proceeds toward programs that benefit culture, arts, science, youth work and sports.

Those who wish to play the lottery must have a local bank account. All printed instructions are in the Finnish language, effectively limiting participation to citizens. Players deposit money into Veikkaus accounts, from which tickets are purchased and to which winnings are added. According to one recent estimate, there are 70,000 registered lottery players in the country.

The entity responsible for managing Toto betting is Fintoto Oy, which is owned by Suomen Hippos, Finland’s central organisation of trotting and horse breeding. As many as 43 racetracks can be found around the country, including three major ones at Forssa, Lappeenranta and Tampere with pari-mutuel betting.

The monopoly for casinos in Finland is operated by a public company known as RAY, which is short for Rahaautomaattiyhdistys or the Slot Machine Association. At last count, there were about 18,000 slot machines installed around the country, including those at 55 gaming arcades and more than 4,000 game retail outlets. The minimum age to play is 18 years old or 15 years old, depending on the location. RAY’s revenue is used to support social and health care organisations.

Although RAY has licensed 287 restaurants to offer table games, the nation still has only two true casinos. The Grand Casino Helsinki features 29,000 square feet of gaming space on three floors with 300 gaming machines and 32 table games, ranging from Roulette and Blackjack to Baccarat, Sic Bo and Craps. The other is the Arkipelag Hotel and Casino on the Åland Islands, offering a 1,650-square-foot gaming space with 80 gaming machines and six table and poker games.

It bears mentioning that Aland Province, which comprises 6,500 islands in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland, enjoys a high degree of autonomy. It is actually a jurisdiction separate from the monopoly system. Gambling operations there have been managed since 1967 by Ålands Penningautomatförening, which is better known as PAF.

PAF oversees gaming machines, bingo, casinos games, lottery, poker, sports betting, amusements, skill games and Tote activities. Profits from these go toward the public welfare, such as culture, the social sector and to support sports. PAF also runs operations on ferries and via the Internet, which has been the cause of several clashes with the other monopolies in recent years.

According to Finland’s 2002 Act on Gaming, only one license for Internet gaming can be operational at a time. The government designated RAY as the online gaming provider for the Finnish mainland, but many of the residents there play on the PAF web site. In fact, PAF’s lotteries also attract some of the 40,000 Veikkaus customers that regularly play via the Internet. What’s more, PAF set up the nation’s first full-service bookmaking site.

At one point, RAY sent police to raid PAF offices, claiming its online operations were illegal and causing quite a stir. But for now at least, the Finnish government has settled on a policy of one country, two gambling systems and PAF openly controls the only online sportsbook in Finland.

Finns who seek greater betting opportunities than PAF can provide have access to at least 477 foreign sports betting sites that welcome those with an address in Finland. Unibet, Expekt, Ladbrokes and Betsson are among 22 bookmakers who offer support in the Finnish language, too.

The Finnish government discourages its citizens from gambling offshore, but there is not much they can do to control the situation. Moreover, the European Union has been pressing Finland to break up its gambling monopoly.