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Article written by Antti Koivula, consulting legal advisor at Legal Gaming
On May 24, 2022 the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court delivered its judgment on IS-Liigapörssi-case (KHO:2022:60), in which the Supreme Administrative Court analysed whether skill-based fantasy sports games are within the scope of the Finnish Lotteries Act (1047/2001) (“Lotteries Act”) and thus belong to the state-owned gambling operator Veikkaus Oy’s (“Veikkaus”) monopoly.
Finland has a statutory gambling monopoly in place, under which Veikkaus has exclusive rights to operate and market gambling. According to the Lotteries Act, all games which include a participation fee, prizes of monetary value and the result is based on chance, are within Veikkaus monopoly. The main question in the case was if it is enough the game to be even remotely based on chance to be within the scope of the Lotteries Act and thus belong to Veikkaus monopoly, and if that was the case, whether the element of chance was present in the skill-based fantasy sports games in question.
IS-Liigapörssi-case concerned popular fantasy sports games in Finland, in which participants form virtual ice hockey teams from real ice hockey players and points were awarded based on the ice hockey players performance on real ice hockey matches. The fantasy sports games included entry fees and prizes and they had been run since 1995 by a Finnish media giant Sanoma Media Finland Oy (“Sanoma”). It was an undeniable fact that skilled and analytical participants who invested a considerable amount of time to the fantasy sports games outperformed participants who picked the players randomly.
The background of the case is lengthy, as the national authorities had tried to shut down the fantasy sports games run by Sanoma for more than a decade. In 2008 the Ministry of the Interior made a request for investigation for the police, which carried out a preliminary investigation. However, in 2010 the National Prosecution Authority (“NPA”) made a non-prosecution decision stating that it was left unresolved whether the Fantasy Sports games in question are within the scope of the Lotteries Act.
In 2017 the gambling enforcement authority, the National Police Board (“NPB”) started administrative proceedings against Sanoma regarding the fantasy sports games and two years later in 2019 the process had reached the point in which the NPB imposed a prohibition order and a conditional fine of EUR 300,000 for Sanoma on the basis that Sanoma was not allowed to run the fantasy sports games as they qualified as gambling. Sanoma appealed to the Helsinki Administrative Court arguing that the fantasy sports games in question were skill-games with which chance had no effect on the results and thus outside the scope of the Lotteries Act, but in 2021 the Helsinki Administrative Court ruled in favour of the NPB. Sanoma appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Supreme Administrative Court acknowledged that participants knowledge and skills were meaningful in the context of success, but reminded that at the same time random factors outside the participant’s control had a significant importance too. Thus, the chance of winning was at least partially based on luck. As the fantasy sports games also included entry fees and prize money, only Veikkaus was allowed to run them in Finland.
The Supreme Administrative Court’s decision hardly came as a surprise. The Lotteries Act’s definition of gambling is extremely broad, from which a good example is that even an ice fishing competition and an auction were previously deemed to fall within it. Nevertheless, the decision yet further strengthened the NPB’s authority and it remains to be seen what is the next competition or event after which they’ll go next.