While the Definition of a Lottery is Being Reviewed in Court, Two Fantasy Sports Games May Continue to Operate

January 25, 2020 | Legal

FINLAND — The Finnish gambling market is one of the most regulated in Europe; state-owned Veikkaus Oy has the exclusive right to provide gambling services in Finland. The Lotteries Act (1047/2001) stipulates that the definition of a lottery is fulfilled when an activity includes three elements: a charge for participation, chance, and a prize of monetary value. The court case relates to fantasy sports games, where the aim is to put together a virtual hockey team. Players earn points and money depending on how the selected players succeed in real hockey matches.

Compliance with the Lotteries Act is monitored by the National Police Board of Finland, which considered that in such fantasy games, the prize is at least partly based on chance, as even a skilful player cannot know how future events will pan out in advance.

According to the National Police Board, the games also met the definition of gambling, as they involved cash prizes. According to the Government Proposal of the Lotteries Act, although fantasy sports games are expert games, there are always unpredictable circumstances in real-world events, whereby the prize always partly depends on chance. The National Police Board prohibited the operation of these games and imposed conditional fines of EUR 300,000.

The decision was appealed to Helsinki Administrative Court, which allowed the game organisers to continue their existing fantasy sports operations for the time being. It will be interesting to see how the Administrative Court will interpret the Lotteries Act, amended in 2017. The oldest of these fantasy hockey games has been in operation since 1995 and had around 35,000 players in recent years. The legality of the game has been questioned in criminal proceedings in the past, but a decision not to prosecute was issued in 2010. By amending the Lotteries Act, Finland sought to maintain its gambling monopoly; this case appears to show a tightened approach from Finland’s supervisory authority at minimum.

We will keep you informed about any future developments. Meanwhile, please find the National Police Board’s press release here (in Finnish).

SOURCE: Bird & Bird LLP (Hein Hobbelen, Thomas Oster, Pauline Kuipers, Dr. Jörg Witting, Morten Nissen and Jose Rivas), Lexology.

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