Veikkaus shutters retail gaming outlets amid Covid-19 surge

| By Robin Harrison
Finland’s gambling monopoly Veikkaus has begun closing its gaming arcades and shutting off slot machines in regions of the country facing rising numbers of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cases.

The operator began to take action yesterday (26 November), after the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health warned of a “worrying” rise in new cases and hospital admissions, especially around the capital Helsinki. 

In the past week new case numbers rose by 906 to 2,541 across the country, corresponding to a two-week incidence rate of 75.8 cases per 100,000 citizens, up from 30 in the previous week.

It has therefore recommended regional authorities close all high-risk public spaces in regions where case numbers were rising rapidly. 

The broader Helsinki region will also ban all public meetings, and shift all school pupils and students aged 15 years old and above to remote learning.

This has prompted Veikkaus to begin closing its retail outlets in the 12 regions, which it expects to finalise by Saturday. 

“We have followed the development of the coronavirus situation and acted according to the official guidelines,” the operator’s senior vice president of channels and sales Jari Heino said. “We made the decision on the closure today quickly after the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health published their guidelines.

“No-one knows yet what the situation will look like in three weeks. We are sure that all efforts will be made in society to suppress the second wave of this disease.”

Heino added that Veikkaus would listen to the specialists to continuously evaluate the situation and make future decisions based on the science.

It follows the operator’s earlier shut-down of all land-based gaming from 13 March in the first wave of the pandemic. 

Casinos did not reopen until 26 June, with its land-based slots going back online from 15 July, though this was accompanied by accelerated efforts to reduce the size of its network. Having originally planned to take 3,500 machines offline, it will now take 8,000 slots out of commission by the end of 2020.

In addition, a pilot programme for account-based play, which will require players to register before they can access the slot machines, was expanded earlier this month to more regions, having initially only launched the feature on 100 machines.

The operator has also reduced its maximum weekly loss limit for online lotteries, slots, bingo and table games from €2,000 to €500 during the pandemic. This was originally due to expire on 1 October, but was then extended to the end of the year.

Covid-19 disruption will ultimately reduce the operator’s full-year profits by as much as €300m, Veikkaus said in August.

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