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Finland, like its Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Norway, maintain a monopoly on gambling in their country through the use of government controlled companies which are the only organization in the country legally authorized to offer it.
In the case of Finland, there are three separate entities that control gambling in the country. Fintoto handles horse racing betting, Veikkaus deals with sports betting and the lottery, and RAY controls betting on casino and table games, including betting on the game of poker. (1)
Gambling is very popular in Finland, with 8 out of 10 residents admitting to gambling at least occasionally, with 5 out of 10 partaking in gambling at least once a week. Most are modest players, with about 5% of gamblers comprising about 50% of all the money wagered on gambling in Finland.
Finland does have a casino and they also have live real money poker as well, although there is only one true casino in Finland and that is the Casino Helsinki. They do have a poker room which offers both cash games and tournaments with no limit cash games from €2/€2 to €20/€20, along with a regular assortment of tournaments. The focus is mostly on Texas Hold’em although they do offer a limited amount of Omaha as well. (2)
RAY, which controls poker in Finland, also offers an online poker site, which is a fairly small site but has enlisted the help of Finland’s most successful poker pro Juha Helppi to help them promote the site. Finnish players are of course most welcome to play on this site as it is designed by the government exclusively for their benefit.
Since RAY’s poker site just permits Finnish players, this does tend to present a disadvantage to them in terms of player liquidity, which is doubly bad considering their offshore competitors do not suffer this disadvantage.
So while RAY does control poker in Finland proper, meaning the mainland region under the control of the Finnish government, this does not include the Aland Islands, which are considered part of Finland but are an autonomous region and therefore not subject to the regulation or control of the Finnish government. (3)
The Aland Islands have both a casino offering poker and an online poker site. Gambling in the Aland Islands is also run by a monopoly, called PAF, which stands for Play Among Friends. PAF also has gambling operations in Sweden and Estonia. They are known for their humanitarianism and their purpose is to give their profits away to worthy causes. RAY also gives away their proceeds of gambling to charity.
The Online Poker Scene In Finland
Not surprisingly, the online arm of PAF is directed at Finnish players primarily, which has brought them into dispute with RAY, the Finnish government owned organization that regulates these sort of games in Finland. Finnish authorities claim that PAF is in violation of the law, and PAF asserts that this law does not apply to them and they are in compliance with the laws of the Aland Islands where the company is located.
PAF, unlike RAY, doesn’t require players to play against only Finns, and they are actually host two separate poker rooms which are part of two separate poker networks which accept players from numerous countries, therefore not suffering the ring fencing problem that RAY does.
Finland’s membership in the European Union permits residents to play legally at any online poker site that is licensed in the EU, which includes several popular poker sites. So online players aren’t just limited to playing at RAY‘s officially approved poker site, they can also play online at PAF’s online poker site or select from a number of other popular poker sites that are licensed in the EU. Poker Stars in particular is popular among Finns, as it is with players from many countries, and they are focused on the Finnish market and even have a Finnish poker championship.
Should a Finnish player choose to play on a poker site that isn’t licensed in the EU, there’s not really anything that can be done about it, but given that many of the popular sites these days are EU licensed, and those which aren’t will probably soon be, most players will find themselves in compliance with the law anyway.
The Future of Poker in Finland
It is probably just a matter of time before Finland ends up succumbing to the pressures of the EU to end their monopoly on gambling and open up the market to private interests. Denmark has already given up their monopoly and have been licensing private poker rooms for a while now, and while Sweden still hasn’t made this move yet, they are under a lot of pressure to give up their monopoly on gambling.
Norway, on the other hand, isn’t a member of the EU so the pressures are less but even Norway is being pestered to get rid of their gambling monopoly by European authorities.
Getting rid of a country’s monopoly on gambling doesn’t in itself mandate regulated online poker but the two certainly go together, especially since making this change will entail new regulations.
A country could certainly choose not to regulate online poker and just open up their land based gaming operations but given that their players would still be free to play online legally, it really wouldn’t make sense to do this without looking to cash in on the tax revenue online regulation would bring.
Opening up land based gaming would likely be welcome by Finns though, especially given their penchant for gambling, so this part would be a plus.
So an expansion of regulated online poker in Finland is likely on the horizon, although given the present state of online poker and its availability in Finland, this likely wouldn’t affect players very much and would really be more a matter of increasing tax revenue for the Finnish government.
Depending on how it’s set up though this could end up just creating more ring fenced poker sites like the one we now have run by RAY, so it’s hoped that Finnish officials will have more foresight here and realize that this setup really doesn’t wok that well anyway and especially doesn’t in a country the size of Finland, and will instead follow the Danish model of regulation which is clearly superior for all parties involved.