Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) has signed into being a measure which will set up support for those with gambling addiction and their families and children, a problem which has reportedly been on the increase during the pandemic.
The social affairs ministry says the issue of gambling among minors is of particular concern.
Kathlin Mikiver, chief specialist at the Ministry of Social Affairs' public health department, said: "In order to get rid of gambling addiction, it is important to offer individuals who acknowledge their problems, and their relatives, comprehensive help and support via complex services."
Mikiver noted the problem of racking up debts in order to fuel gaming habits, multiplying the problem and requiring debt counseling.
Exposure to gambling by parents also causes minors to be more likely to develop gambling addictions of their own, either then or in later life, she added.
The support scheme will provide €200,000 – likely mere small change for many of the major online gambling companies based in Estonia – to set up free psychological counseling for around 200 problem gamers, along with debt counseling for around half that number.
Prevalence studies in Estonia claim that every second inhabitant has been exposed to gambling in some shape or form, with about 7 percent of the populace considered at-risk. Afflicted individuals can suffer social, professional, relationship and other issues as well as the obvious financial ones, it is reported.
NGO the Gambling Addiction Counseling Center (MTÜ Hasartmangusoltuvuse noustamiskeskus) will be the state's partner in providing the services, having won a tender for the purpose organized through the first half of October, and will also be surveying the issue, which has worsened during the pandemic, the organization says.
Counseling center chief: Pandemic has exacerbated problem
Pille-Riin Indermitte, head of the counseling center, said: "The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the growth of gaming behavior among both young people and adults. On the one hand, gambling behavior has initially increased primarily as a means of spending time, but as it deepens, other interests disappear and it is difficult to return to school and work responsibilities. On the other hand, the rise in gambling is due to the hope of being able to ameliorate one's economic situation when employment opportunities have diminished."
"We are pleased to be able to offer more psychological counseling, free debt counseling and pilot a support group service over the next two years as well as, for the first time, conduct a study on the spread of gambling and digital addiction problems among minors in Estonia," she added.
In addition to walk-in casinos legal in Estonia, online gambling is limited to around 20 providers, with access blocked to online casinos outside of that circle. However, several online gaming companies and software providers providing services to customers outside Estonia, particularly in the Nordic countries, as well as gaming affiliates promoting online casinos, base their operations in Estonia, though they may be registered elsewhere. Tartu and Tallinn-based gambling software and gaming platform provider Playtech is in fact one of Estonia's four current "unicorn" firms, meaning companies valued at over US$ 1 billion.
The state-owned Eesti Loto operates several lotteries.
Gambling is subject to a gaming tax, with revenues often diverted to social projects, by the social affairs ministry itself. At the same time, the ministry has claimed receipts have fallen during the pandemic.
Editor: Andrew Whyte