Electronic gambling machines (EGMs) are considered a risky form of gambling. Internationally, studies have reported that the density of EGMs tends to be higher in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas than in more advantaged ones. We examined whether this holds true in the Finnish context where a decentralised system of EGMs guarantees wide accessibility to this form of gambling. More precisely, we investigated the association between the density of EGMs and area-level socio-economic status (SES).
The primary measure was the EGM density, referring to the number of EGMs per 1000 adults. The area-level SES was defined on the basis of the median income of inhabitants, the proportion of unemployment in the area and educational attainment (% of those beyond primary education). Three additional area characteristics were used as control variables in the analyses; the overall population density, economic activity (the number of jobs in the area per employed inhabitant), and the mean age of the inhabitants. Analyses were based on linear regression.
The EGM density was 3.68 per 1000 inhabitants (SD = 2.63). A lower area-level SES was correlated with a higher EGM density. In further analyses, this effect was mostly explained by the income of the inhabitants. Of the control variables, the population density had no detectable effect on the EGM density while areas with a higher mean age of the inhabitants, as well a higher density of jobs, had more EGMs.
EGMs are unequally located in Finland, with more EGMs located in socio-economically less advantaged areas. The higher machine density in areas of social disadvantage is not in line with the aim of the Finnish gambling policy, which is to prevent and reduce harm caused by gambling. Changes in policy are required, especially with regard to the decisions on the placement of EGMs. This should not be made solely by gaming operators and/or from fiscal perspectives.