Gambling might seem like an odd starting point to explore socio-cultural issues in Finland, but over the weekend The Economist ran an article about global gambling, and the country ranked third with about $600 (S$760) in losses per resident adult. The global gambling sector has gained $440 (S$558) billion – which should also mean that gamblers lost that amount – in 2013, and mobile gaming and betting is going to become much more ubiquitous. A happy affair for representatives from the industry, though I doubt many share the same enthusiasm.
Singapore was second: over $900 (S$1,141) in losses per resident adult.
Newspapers in Singapore have not picked up on these statistics*, but I am presuming it is for good reasons. The study was conducted by a British consultancy H2 Gambling Capital, “the gambling industry’s leading consulting, market intelligence and data team”, and it has not made the data or summaries of it public. Questions should be asked of the sample population, of the research methodology, and of the corporations that were studied. There might be perceived inconsistencies too. For instance, was the loss per resident adult calculated by dividing the total losses – $7.8 (S$9.9) billion for Singapore – by the resident population? Or total population? How were the local and tourist dollars distinguished?
The lack of clarity notwithstanding, there are broad similarities of gambling practices and management in Helsinki and Singapore. In Finland three government bodies – RAY, Veikkaus Oy, and Fintoto Oy – monopolise the industry, and each is responsible for certain domains. In Singapore, the Singapore Pools is the only legal lottery operator, and two casino licences have been awarded to Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa. Individuals in both countries, according to the aforementioned report, have lost substantial sums to gaming machines, betting, lotteries, and interactive modes of gambling. Grand Casino Helsinki, with its sprawling, clock-less and window-less complex, has drawn in many visitors, the same effect the two casinos in Singapore has had on locals and tourists alike.
Some have remarked that it is peculiar that profits raised from Finland’s gambling organisations are used for social programmes and non-government organisations, but the Singapore Pools channels surplus earnings to benefit the community too. The two casino operators in Singapore have, purportedly, been active with corporate social responsibility.
Perhaps the most significant difference is the availability and accessibility of fruit machines around Helsinki: right outside the check-out counters of supermarkets, in the convenience kiosks, and in a special shop next to the bus interchange in Kamppi Centre, a central and popular building in the city. With the change from grocery shopping, you could play a quick game of poker a few steps away. There are 76 gaming arcades, 4,000 game retail outlets, and 20,000 slot machines across Finland. In Singapore jackpot machines are tucked away in the rooms of country clubs and relatively obscure buildings. And on the high seas, on-board cruises ships of course. The Economist article also notes that Finns prefer interactive gaming, which refers to gambling on computer, mobile phone, or interactive television. Presently, Singapore Pools is looking to launch the first licensed gambling website.
The every-day visibility of gambling might not be as high in Singapore, but retail stores owned by Singapore Pools can be found quite easily in the heartlands and in the convenience stalls.
The next obvious question is whether the Finns consider gambling to be a social problem. Even though gambling had been fairly common before proposals for the integrated resorts in Singapore were mooted, many were concerned that problem gambling could become more ubiquitous. Since the opening of the casinos the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) has been scrambling to curb addictions: from monitoring casino advertisements to measures of voluntary exclusions. Sustainable education is a challenge. If the statistical significance of the study by H2 Gambling Capital can be ascertained, the government should be worried that almost half of the gambling losses per resident adult goes to the casinos.
In Finland Peluuri – which has a range of services to help problem gamblers – is the equivalent of the NCPG, and is funded by the institute of health and welfare as well as the three state-licensed gaming organisations. The latest Finnish Gambling Prevalence Survey “revealed that 78 per cent of the Finns had gambled over the past year, the most popular gambling activity being National Lottery (i.e. Lotto)”. The other popular games in Finland include scratch cards and slot machine gambling. Nevertheless, both countries have given their assurance that the rates of probable pathological and problem gambling remain low: about 1.1 per cent in Finland and between 1.2 and 1.4 per cent in Singapore.
It is unfair to generalise or compare the extent of problem gambling of both countries, but the ramifications of problem gambling are hard to dispute. If the figures from the study are anything to go by, The Economist is spot-on with its assessment: the house (always) wins.
* This is inaccurate. TODAY did run a piece on the study (Feb. 6).
Check out The Finland Chapter, from start to finnish.