Legality of Gambling
The existence of gaming monopolies is usually justified in terms of the prevention of social problems. For example, in restricting the number of online games available to consumers, the authorities refer to the need to protect players and prevent problem gambling. Problem gambling is described as ―an urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a need to stop‖ (European Commission 2011). Accurately defining problem gambling has proven difficult, but certain general outlines have been accepted for the term. Beside the aforementioned, these are that problem gambling is gaming which repeatedly interferes with or damages the player’s family relationships, work or finances, or gaming which causes either physical or mental problems to the player (cf. e.g. Taskinen 2007; Griffiths 2008, p. 127). Perhaps due to the difficulty of defining problem gambling, previous researchers have provided somewhat conflicting information on the number of problem gamblers. Closer analysis reveals that different studies define and assess problem gambling in different ways. The most common gambling problem screening methods are DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; cf. American Psychiatric Association 1994) and SOGS (the South Oaks Gambling Screen; cf. Lesieur & Blume 1987).
In Finland relatively little research has been conducted in the field of problem gambling, and most of it has been carried out by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (for summary and discussion of results see Jaakkola 2009). According to Jaakkola (2009), not enough efforts have been made in Finland to prevent and treat gambling problems. Jaakkola also says that health care professionals should have more knowledge of gambling problems and how to treat them. This view concerning the lack of know-how in treating problem gamblers was also expressed in this study’s interviews. This is somewhat surprising, considering that a population survey (Aho & Turja 2007) and surveys of young people (Ilkas & Aho 2006) have estimated that about 3 % of Finns (over the age of 15) can be considered to be problem gamblers. The number of gambling addicts is estimated to be about 1% of Finns aged over 15. People with serious gambling addictions requiring urgent assistance are estimated to be around 0.1% of citizens aged over 15 (Pollari 2011). A gambling survey conducted in 2011 (Suomalaisten rahapelaaminen 2011) produced similar figures (cf. Turja et al. 2012).
Measuring gambling problems is methodologically challenging. RAY’s long-term research samples (taken since 1994) indicate that the number of people with gambling problems is at least not growing in Finland. This is interesting in the light of the significant increase in the forms of online gaming available to Finnish gamblers in the last decade. It is also worth mentioning that the proportion of people with gambling problems does not seem to correlate with the degree of regulation of the gaming market in the country in question. For example, the UK’s licence-based gaming market has been shown to have fewer problem gamblers than the tightly regulated market in Finland. In fact, according to research by Griffiths (2009), Finland seems to have one of the highest proportions of problem gamblers in Europe.
The best-known body assisting people with gambling problems in Finland is the national helpline Peluuri, which has recently invested into increasing its online services. The service is provided by the A-Clinic Foundation and the Finnish Blue Ribbon. The core operations of Peluuri are funded by Fintoto, RAY and Veikkaus. Peluuri keeps records of the phone calls received, which totalled 1,120 in 2010. Of these, 787 were made by players and 290 by concerned friends and family. The rest came from social service and health care professionals. Comparing Peluuri’s statistics for 2010 to those for 2009, it is interesting that contacts related to online gaming fell whereas ones related to slot machines grew slightly. Only two years were included in the comparison, however, so no general conclusions can be drawn from it. Furthermore, the clientele of Peluuri do not represent the entire group of problem gamblers; only those who seek assistance. Some people with gambling problems either do not want to call or seek assistance or do not know about the service. International research has shown that only 10–20% of problem gamblers seek treatment. This means that conclusions concerning the extent of gambling problems or changes taking place in the group cannot be drawn from the numbers of phone calls received by the helpline (Pajula & Aaltonen 2010).