For some time, if you walk through Romanian cities, you will notice in their centers lots of pharmacies, banks and gambling halls or betting agencies. A crotchety might say that there are too many games of chance, but if we analyze that, at national level, in Romania are authorized about 65,000 slot machines and in Spain, only in Madrid, are allowed over 100,000, you will notice that there aren’t that many in our country.
In fact, it is well known that Romanians are players, lovers of adrenaline and are recognized among the Balkan peoples, as good gamblers, whether we are talking about the card game, which is practiced nationwide. It is a game widespread among pupils (whist games, rentz, canasta, even bridge) and among students and young people who still play poker or other games, whether we are talking about betting or lottery games. I remind you here of the famous bingo TV from the 2000s, when we had a real phobia, the ProTv Postcard raffle, hosted by the famous Florin Călinescu, as well as lotto games, which have a long tradition in our country, and which, during communism, were among the few ways to entertain the population.
From the very beginning, I would like to make it clear that I will not make a plea in favor of gambling in the following, but I will try to present this true industry, which has existed and has been operating for many years in civilized countries, in the light it really deserves, respectively that of entertainment service, which together with Horeca, is a way to satisfy people who want an adrenaline rush and who can afford this type of fun. I emphasize that gambling should not be seen as an easy way to get rich, but just a fun activity, where participants need to be aware of the amount of money they can use and the possible benefits that can come from this activity.
How did I get to discover the gambling industry and what led me to continue to work as a lawyer in this field, I will briefly present in the following.
The story begins somewhere in 1999, when, as a new officer, a graduate of the Faculty of Law of the Police Academy, I was assigned to the Economic Directorate of the General Inspectorate of Police, precisely at the famous Miscellaneous Service (something similar to the subjects from the famous BD series), which, among other things, was also responsible for gambling. I was lucky to meet well-known colleagues and bosses in the field, dedicated and from whom I learned a lot of things I had not dealt with in the Academy. Thanks in this way to those who have been with me, from whom I learned and with whom I laid the foundations and built legal practices that would eliminate the rot from the activity of gambling. Then, I started, timidly, the job of university teacher at the Faculty of Law of the Police Academy. I started from the position of trainer, then assistant, lecturer, associate professor and towards the end of my career – university professor, in the discipline of Economic Police, where, among other things, I held (undergraduate and master’s) a course dedicated to preventing and combating gambling fraud. It is probably a unique discipline in our higher education, and I hope that other faculties, legal or economic, will take over and introduce such a subject, given that there are approximately 45,000 employees nationwide in this industry and well-trained people are needed to master the legal part but especially the economic/business part.
I had the chance in 2013 to be co-opted by the first President of the newly established National Gambling Office, as Director of the Authorization Department, where, together with the “crazy” team from that time, we have tried, some say we have succeeded, but the weather will show if so, to operationalize a newly created institution and to put some rules in the market to regulate, in this field, a state monopoly. I remember fondly that in April-May 2013, ONJN was made up of three people and a computer, somewhere in a ground floor office in the Ministry of Finance, and that there were, and unfortunately still are, some who sang the Office’s prologue. After that, in a short period of time (approximately two to three years) it has been possible to amend and supplement the legislation governing gambling and to form a competent team of employed officials of the Office.
In 2017, for a short time, I was the manager of the National Lottery, and after that I got involved in the activity of my own Law Firm, where we mainly provide consulting and representation services for gambling operators.
The positions I have held for the last over 20 years have helped me gain the knowledge and experience that allow me at this time, to issue informed and reasoned opinions in this niche field.
What can be said about the Romanian gambling market for the last 20 years is that it has evolved and is currently offering truly European services in the field of entertainment. Land based casinos have been replaced by online games (remember that at one time there were over 20 casinos in Romania), and the market has removed televised bingo games and allowed poker clubs to enter, has replaced bingo halls with betting agencies, and what will likely follow is the digitization and migration of the businesses from the physical to the online environment, making it possible for attractive and exciting hybrid games to appear.
Achievements from that time include the licensing of online gambling and the emergence of second-class licenses granted to legal entities involved in the field of traditional and remote gambling. That was also the moment when the conformity assessment bodies emerged, which led to the elimination of the monopoly held by ROLM and allowed the appearance in the profile market of recognized international companies and Romanian companies. Unfortunately, there are also some syncope or measures that have not been taken, one of the failures being the impermissible delay of the appearance of a Technical Order of the President of ONJN, to regulate the minimum technical conditions for the verification of the means of gambling, and to allow RENAR to issue the Accreditation Scheme in the field of gambling. Only in January 2021 was issued the Order of the President of ONJN no. 404/2020, after being discussed in the Advisory Board of the ONJN and, of course, was notified to the European Commission.
Subsequently, in July 2021, an Order amending Order 404/2020 appeared, as if out of nowhere, respectively the Order of the President of ONJN no. 86/2021, which, instead of solving the problems already known, amplified and created even bigger problems. I will not repeat here the aspects that I have presented on other occasions, even in the pages of Casino Inside magazine, but I will summarize a situation that deserves to be highlighted. First of all, it is established that overnight (i.e. from the date of publication of the Order in question) the conformity assessment bodies must hold ISO 17020 or 17025 in the field of gambling, without granting a deadline for compliance. In other words, the ONJN leadership changed the rule even during the game, without any notice or warning. Or this affects all CABs that carry out specific activities in Romania, because, even at this time, there is no (it has not been published) Accreditation Scheme in the field of gambling, because ONJN did not endorse the proposal made by RENAR.
The motivation of the ONJN, regarding the fact that Order 86/2021 is only a “linguistic correction” of Order 404/2020, is bewildering. Let’s understand that in the initial order there were 25 grammatical or expression mistakes and errors (article II of Order 86 modifies 23 points and there are two more articles that are introduced, respectively article I and III). Moreover, the correction, whether grammatical or semantic, of a technical rule “cannot be technical either”, according to the Office, and as such does not require notification by the European Commission. We look forward to hearing from the European Commission on this approach of the ONJN.
Moreover, the suspension of the activity of three second-class licensed companies in September 2021 was an unprecedented measure, given that the primary legislation has not undergone any changes regarding the conditions for granting and maintaining this type of license. It is true that the ONJN Supervisory Committee subsequently returned and annulled the Suspension Decisions, but for more than a month, the three Romanian companies, were literally “unemployed” and forced to seek justice in court.
We strongly believe that at this time the Office must take decisive action to support the national gambling industry by issuing an Order setting out the actual calculation of the license and authorization fee, having regard to the periods of suspension or cessation of activity of traditional gambling operators in the last two years, as a result of exceptional measures taken to protect against COVID 19. ONJN should also support the industry in identifying practical solutions for opening bank accounts of licensed gambling operators. It is well known that for more than three years the traditional gambling operators have not been able to open new accounts in the Romanian banks, and if no solutions are identified, the game operators will have to physically pay their taxes to the Treasury and pay the wages for they employees in cash.
We appreciate the appearance of Order no. 370 of December 21, 2021 for the approval of the Instructions on preventing and combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism in the field of gambling in Romania. This Order is also related to the refreshment of the ONJN Supervisory Committee with new members. We look forward to the appointment of a Vice President, who we hope will be a knowledgeable one.
We hope that this year will no longer be a burden for land based gambling operators, that solutions will be identified to enable the activity to take place, without affecting public health and that the authorities will also take into account the needs of this industry, which has a considerable contribution to the state budget.