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The Finland Chapter

Rolling The Dice In Helsinki

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.

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.

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.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


5 thoughts on “Rolling The Dice In Helsinki

  1. When it comes to the topic of gambling, and you see only two Asian countries in the top 20, it reminded me right away of how this only tracks legalised gambling. There is no way Macau, China or even Malaysia to have been spared from this list, where underground gambling Asia in infamous for is the true poison pill of the industry.

    And you are spot on in saying how the study loses its weight if it does not take into account socio-economical and -geographical factors i.e. I doubt there there was at all an effort to distinguish tourist dollars, which would be a uniquely Singapore situation where the it is well-positioned to draw in gamblers of the ENTIRE region unlike any other country that had made the list.

    Though probably similar to United States where Las Vegas would single-handedly take the country right into the upper bracket though it’s also understandably patronised by tourists and millionaires from all over the world who can afford the “losses”. In both cases then, the per resident formula is hardly meaningful.

    Also interesting to note how the most livable countries in the world – Australia, Canada, Switzerland – all have a “thriving” casino industry. Makes me think of how opposition to the casinos back then in Singapore stemmed out of a cultural taboo and rhetoric than a societal reality.

    The same applies for Scandinavia and UK/Ireland, where online sports betting is a cultural norm. Betting websites like bet365 dot com and betwin dot com are part of the cultural appetite of a kid growing up in these regions. In fact it’s seen more as a probability game that my guy friends often take pride in making “good” bets. Athletes as well are often let in to know of these probabilities, which is why match-fixing is a very real situation in this region!

    Posted by fivetwosix | February 7, 2014, 10:04 am
    • The study is somewhat problematic. Tried to find the dataset / methodology online to no avail. I think the geographical factors also feature given the different sizes and distribution of gambling facilities across cities / countries. Not a very fair assessment in general.

      I know it’s odd to use gambling as a topic to start exploring different socio-political issues in Finland, but one of the first things that did strike me when I was arrived was the accessibility of the fruit machines in the shopping centres, and right outside the checkout counters of supermarkets. Thought The Economist’s article was a good way to segue into a brief discussion of gambling and problem gambling in the two countries,

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | February 7, 2014, 6:16 pm
  2. I’ve gambled in Singapore and I’ve gambled in Finland and been around habitual gamblers in both countries. The psychology is quite different. Very very interesting.

    Posted by Daniel Yap | February 7, 2014, 4:37 pm
    • I’ve never gambled in Singapore (besides the CNY sessions when I was a little younger), so the visit to the casino in Helsinki was my first. How different is the psychology? Along cultural or historical lines?

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | February 7, 2014, 6:18 pm
      • Jackpot machines are ubiquitous, as are scratch cards, which I’m sure you’ve noticed. Finns are exposed to gambling at a young age, whatever their family background.

        There’s much less of a moralistic “vice” stigma attached to it in Finland, I think. Parents don’t often fin a need to “shelter” kids from gambling. The common sense approach is expected. Gambling is participation in a game – one with odds and calculations.

        In Singapore, our cultural roots lend more to superstition and reliance on luck, which makes for a highly emotional and much less rational relationship with gambling. Add to that a stronger leaning towards materialism in Singapore (we value wealth more than the Finns) and you can see how differently gambling may weigh on the minds of Finns and Singaporeans.

        There are exceptions in both countries, but I find these are valid general observations.

        Posted by Daniel Yap | February 10, 2014, 10:50 pm

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