We offer you an interview with the President of the National Office for Gambling (ONJN), Dan Iliovici. I have invited him to offer us a clearer picture of the gambling field’s situation and to offer us as much current information and information of interest for all actors on our market, as possible.
What issues were you confronted with once having taken the position? Are there still issues that you face while exercising your attributions?
Issues?! An abrupt introduction… I’d rather name them “challenges”.
Think about someone who has worked (for what seems like a life-time) in the so-called “private environment” and who, overnight, moves to work for the state. The difference are significant, to not say huge, starting from aspects related to organizational culture and finishing with restrictions – firstly those related to budget. There are also aspects related to mentalities…
There are no insurmountable issues. The only issue is that, sometimes, I have experienced a sense of getting stuck, of running through water.
However, my enthusiasm has not eluded me. I want a responsible industry, adequate player protection, observance of the legislative framework.
How did the gambling industry in our country look in 2017?
2017 was a “normal” year. We have had stability with regards to the legislative framework specific to our industry, stability with regards to the market. The most important development was with regards to the on-line gambling segment, where we reached 21 operators in December 2017.
This is a small picture of the industry, in figures:
- 68,025 authorized slot machines
- 3,521 AWPs – authorized limited win machines
- 13,335 authorized betting agencies / 25 fixed quota betting operators
- 377 class I licensed gambling organizers
- RON 1,314,331,000 total gambling taxes doe 698 economic agents (licensed class I and II)
- 1,224 resolved petitions
- 13,093 control actions – RON 9,576,000 in fines
How would you characterize our gambling industry? Is it a mature industry, a growing industry…? Why?
I underlined countless of times the fact that the regulation of the gambling field in our country is given as a good-practice example at the level of the EU states. The manner of organization and functioning of the authority responsible for managing the industry, OJNJ, is also appreciated, and the market “response” fits the bill: we have an organic development, a competitive, stable market, with clear regulations and transparent procedures. There are positive aspects, kept in mind by any investor, regardless of the industry.
I am not saying that all if well, or that there aren’t things that can be (and should be) improved. Including with regards to the Office’s activity. But I want to assure everyone of our good faith and to stir toward a constructive approach of the differences, of points of view which sometimes seem irreconcilable. We request an industry-authority partnership. The gambling market sees a continuous dynamic, especially with regards to technology, and we expect an organic development, which shall “keep up” with this evolution.
Can it be said that in Romania, today, there are still games “played under the table”? (If yes, please offer us a few examples that you have discovered upon taking the position).
We believe that the black market has seen a significant drop due to the adoption of the new legal framework. From zero licensed on-line gambling operators before 2015, we have reached over 20 today. So, in fact, the on-line market has been opened.
With regards to slot machines operated without a license and/or operating license, we have benefited from the aid of operators who function legally, those who have signalled locations where there were clues of machines being operated without a license. Anyone who organizes black market gambling represent an disloyal competitor to those paying taxes and fees provided by law.
Furthermore, the players have understood the fact that it is illegal to participate in unauthorized games and that they benefit from protection only if they play on legal sites.
As a result of inspections performed in 2017, 241 means of game have been indisposed, representing 205 slot machines, 26 on-line slot machine terminals and 10 poker tables.
Here, I believe, something should be duly noted: if the gambling industry is not regulated, or if it is poorly regulated, and the operators wish to operate illegally on a market, they will face impediments (walls) which shall render their activity inefficient from the perspective of all legal requirements, then the respective market shall face an ample black market gambling phenomenon.
Regardless of the regulation method, the request for such activity/fun exists. People want to play – they have wanted to do so from ancient times, and they shall certainly continue to do so in the future. However, it is important that those offering this service – organizing games of chance – to be able to do it legally, responsibly, based on clear, equitable, applicable regulations. And the market needs to be supervised, monitored, controlled by an independent authority.
This is the optimal framework which can ensure the education and protection of players, efficient tax collection, a competitive market, socially responsible.
From your point of view, which are the main achievements since you have become president of the ONJN?
You know my concern with minor protection, for preventing and treating players with gambling problems, all that we call Responsible Game. With regards to this, I believe the most important achievement is elaborating and publishing the Code of Ethics for responsible communication in the field of gambling.
I would mention here the Office’s complete openness toward an efficient communication with the players, with the plaintiffs. These, as well as the operators, benefit from hearings at any time, nobody is refusing them.
We conduct several inspections, more on-line checks, players have started to know their rights and to find out that there is an authority which regulates this market and which they can address at any time.
Do you believe in the possibility of increasing the number of operators and the number of machines? How about the number of on-line gambling operators?
The market is open and we share the desideratum that competition is beneficial, regardless of the industry. This is beneficial for the consumers, players as well.
We believe that we shall see a constant development in the on-line area, both due to technological evolutions, but also due to the attention that conventional gambling operators (landbased) pay to diversifying the on-line market.
Finally, this is a wish pertaining to the responsible game, the phased transformation/migration of slots located in conventional gambling locations (slot machine halls and/or betting agencies) to AWPs, electronic machines which attribute limited risk winnings.
In February, ONJN launched The Code of Ethics for responsible communication in the field of gambling. Please tell us which are, from your point of view, the most important rules within this document?
Here, I would like to begin by stating loud and clear two things:
Firstly, the legitimacy of publicity in the field of gambling. We are not for abrupt, radical decisions such as prohibiting publicity for this industry. Publicity also has the role of channelling the players toward activities conducted legally, it has a protective role.
A second important aspect with regards to gambling, including the manner in which publicity if made – commercial communication, in the vast sense: everyone must respect certain principles, in the sense of social responsibility and responsible game. Or, this is the exact purpose for which out Code of Ethics for responsible communication came to be, in the context in which everyone agrees to the principles, and issues arise upon their implementation.
The Code of Ethics offers a guide, a guideline with the purpose of those mentioned above. It is not compulsory, no sanctions incurred, it is a live project, subject to debate.
The entire set of provisions is essential to a responsible commercial communication within this sensitive field of gambling.
How did the gambling operators react to The Code of Ethics for responsible communication in the field of gambling?
We have seen to types of reactions:
The first reaction came directly from the operators. They said that it was a good move on the Office’s part, that they will pay due consideration to the document, will provide amendment proposals and shall go along with the proposed idea, in the sense of voluntary compliance.
We had warned the market in time that the ONJN will not stand aside with regards to regulating publicity. For a long time, we have considered the issuance of an order of the president of the ONJN, which would comprise clear, concrete provisions with regards to the manner in which commercial publicity/communication can be performed (and CANNOT be performed) within this field.
Then we found several sociological studies, including papers from our country, which underlined the fact that the degree of compliance is a lot higher in the case of guidelines/codes where those involved are called upon to willingly adhere, than in cases with imperative provisions, sanctions, terms etc.
So, we chose the first option. We shall see, after a reasonable period of time (a year), what are the results. How many will have adhered, how the media environment presents itself, what feedback we receive from the public, and then we shall establish the following steps to be taken.
The second type of reaction was somewhat more vehement, and came from certain representatives of gambling operators. It went as far as requesting that the document be withdrawn – Code of Ethics – from the Office’s site. We reiterated our argumentation and promotion of the code, came up with new arguments… We succeeded in overcoming this situation and using an approach in the sense of those described above.
What are your plans for the future with regards to the industry that your are leading as President of the ONJN?
There are more to be done as to prevent and decrease the negative effects of excessive gambling. I am mainly referring to creating the fund and foundation for socially responsible gambling, for the prevention and combat of addiction. I hope that we will hold an interview on this matter soon enough, as soon as we shall have the two institutions up and running.
Please send a message to our industry. An incentive addressed to all, not just the companies in the gambling industries:
Get involved in social projects, get involved in the life of local communities. Not just through sponsorship, by showing the name of the one who participated to a certain project. Do it discretely, not as a form of pride or an (indirect) form of publicity. This is also a manner in which you can change the negative perception that our industry still “enjoys”.