The Finnish gambling policy programme in a Nordic context: a long-term commitment to harm prevention and reduction?Gambling
Jani Selin, Maria Heiskanen & Nina Karlsson Published 28 Sep 2022
Finland got its first ever governmental Gambling Policy Programme in May 2022. The programme sets guidelines for prevention and reduction of gambling harm up to the year 2030, and serves as a part of the national Substance use and addiction strategy.
The significance of the programme cannot be overstated. Already in 2017, an expert group recommended the preparation of such a programme in their report to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Why did it take so long to finish it? The short answer is, the time was not ripe – there was no window of opportunity for introducing such a programme.
Ever since Finland joined the European Union in 1995, gambling policy has been a balancing act between two conflicting aims. These are harm prevention, and gambling revenue. Gambling operated by the state monopoly was considered by many politicians and other stakeholders principally as a source of income. Voices calling for harm prevention and reduction, as defined in the policy aims, were not often heard. However, little by little harm prevention and reduction has gained ground in Finnish policy making. The introduction of the 18-year age limit in 2010 and 2011, loss limits set in 2017, and a mandatory player identification introduced gradually in 2021-2024, are examples of this laborious development. For further reading on this subject, see for example articles in Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs and Critical Gambling Studies.
In light of this, the programme is an indicator of a shift within gambling policy priorities. It is also an opportunity to establish harm prevention and reduction as the actual aims of gambling policy.
Objectives and premises of the programme
The objectives are directed at guiding the provision of gambling in a uniform manner. This will ensure a legal framework and gambling system that prevents harm, promotes wellbeing, health, and safety. Another key objective is supporting and developing treatment and care services for gambling problems.
The programme sets four premises that intersect all the objectives. Firstly, that gambling problems and gambling harm are widely identified at all levels of severity from less severe harm to gambling problems and gambling disorder. Secondly, the programme places prevention of gambling harm within the context of overall promotion of wellbeing, health, safety, and social policy, as well as wellbeing economy. Thirdly, it points out that is important to pay attention to both universal prevention and to prevention aimed at specific groups and populations. Fourthly, the programme integrates relevant elements of gaming harm prevention to gambling harm prevention.
A complex set-up
Prevention and reduction of gambling harm in Finland is distributed across many operators, as displayed in the figure above. Involving many operators may result in a fragmented policy framework, but to include a gambling harm prevention perspective across all policies, it is important to distribute responsibilities to several operators.
The objectives of the gambling policy programme are related to the legal framework as well as to harm prevention and treatment services. To have a coherent understanding of how the gambling policy objectives may be implemented effectively, the communication and collaboration between different governmental bodies and towards the monopoly needs to be strengthened. Also, it is important to ensure that decisions regarding the gambling policy have a strong base in current knowledge.
The objectives of harm prevention and treatment services seek to change the attitudes towards gambling and to reduce the stigma related to gambling problems. Additionally, the programme aims to enhance early identification of gambling problems and to improve the quality of prevention, and the availability accessibility and quality of support and treatment. It also recognises that harm prevention and recovery from gambling problems should encompass financial capability and debt issues.
Determining a national target level for the reduction of gambling harm is also included in the programme. This requires further work on a broadening the knowledge base on gambling as well as developing relevant indicators.
Gambling policy programmes in the Nordic countries
In Norway, Sweden and Denmark gambling harm have also been addressed with the aid of action plans or strategies for reducing and preventing gambling harm.
Norway adopted the first action plan for counteracting gambling harm back in 2005. The current 2022-2025 action plan highlights three main goals, some of which closely resemble those of the Finnish one. The Norwegian action plan stresses raising awareness among populations particularly vulnerable to gambling. It also highlights the need for strengthened knowledge on gambling behaviours, problem gambling, and the effect of gambling policy. Furthermore, the action plan emphasizes strengthening early identification and treatment of gambling related problems.
In Sweden the national ANDTS-strategy aims at reducing gambling harm as well as harms from alcohol, drugs, doping, tobacco and nicotine products. Gambling harm prevention was added as a target area to the ANDTS strategy in 2022 as gambling problems often coincide with substance use problems and all five areas share many risk and protective factors. The ANDTS strategy includes seven long-term goals for reducing harms. These include reducing availability, protecting children and young people from harms, preventing early gambling onset, reduced incidence of gambling problems, and better access to treatment and support services. Equality, equity, and protecting children and young people crosscut all the strategic goals.
In Denmark a strategy for preventing gambling problems was published in 2018. It defines three goals: universal prevention of gambling problems on a national and local level, specific prevention measures to targeted populations, and prevention of relapse among people who have had gambling problems. The strategy also emphasises the importance of evidence-based methods and continuous follow-up studies to evaluate prevention efforts. In Denmark, the Ministry of Health offers funding for prevention and treatment activities linked to the strategic goals. Currently, there are no plans to update or renew the strategy.
A long-term commitment to preventing and reducing gambling harm
Parliamentary elections will take place in 2023 in Finland, and the debate on the future of Finnish gambling policy has commenced well in advance. Only time will tell whether future policy lines are favourable to the aims of the programme. On a long-term perspective there have been significant developments in understanding gambling problems as public health issue across the Nordic countries. However, some Nordic countries have longer traditions in addressing gambling harm with policy programmes, while others are developing or have adopted national policy lines more recently.
In Finland the new policy programme coincides with several fundamental changes, such as rapid digitalisation hastened by the Covid-19 pandemic, and political as well as public discussion on the future of state monopolies and the overall legal framework. The programme therefore carries a particular significance as a long-term commitment to preventing and reducing gambling related harm.
The article is written by
Jani Selin, Senior researcher
Maria Heiskanen, Senior researcher, and
Nina Karlsson, Development manager
on request of PopNAD.