Vlad Soare, President of FEDBET: “We managed to present ourselves to the authorities as one voice”

Thursday, 18 May 2023

We offer you an exclusive interview with the president of the Federation of Gambling Organizers – FEDBET, which currently gathers two gambling associations, ROMBET and Romanian Bookmakers, as founding members and is also in very close collaboration with ROMSLOT. We discussed the latest legislative projects concerning our field and under debate in Parliament, the role that FEDBET is going to play in our industry, but also what concrete things need to be done for the gambling industry to earn the place it deserves in the economy, and last but not least, the responsibility we all have in the industry towards the player who crosses the threshold of our venues when he wants to have fun.

Vlad Soare

How do you comment on the latest legislative projects to amend the gambling legislation in Parliament at various stages?

First of all, there is no study on which the initiators are basing themselves, only personal perceptions. Secondly, it is necessary that when such initiatives are presented, there should be studies or the experience of professionals in the field, which indicate the scientific solutions that can solve the problems we have discovered after carrying out studies. Thirdly, although we do not know whether we have a problem, what the scale of the problem is and what the best methods are to solve it, because we do not have studies, we do have the certainty of a future negative economic and social impact.

With the adoption of these legislative projects, the land-based industry will disappear almost entirely and automatically the EUR 1.6 billion it generates for the state budget will also disappear. We are talking about an important figure that places it in the top 10 industries in Romania.

What’s more, 44,000 people would become unemployed the next day, and industries such as sport, culture and cinema would be on the verge of collapse as the amounts they collect from the gambling industry would dramatically decrease.

The level of organised crime would also rise. The University of Nevada conducted a study that showed that the level of organised crime has risen alarmingly where states have banned gambling, as all activity has moved into the black economy.

Finally, I point out that with all these changes and proposed changes, the state has failed to continue to meet its constitutional obligation to ensure the predictability of the law.

With the advent of FEDBET we could say that the gambling industry is starting to grow in consistency, especially in terms of messaging?

Definitely! As you know, the three big gambling associations (ROMBET, Romanian Bookmakers and ROMSLOT) have understood the need for their common interests to be represented by a single Federation with a common mission at industry level. Thus, FEDBET – Federation of Gambling Organizers – was established as a federation of the Romanian gambling industry, with two gambling associations, ROMBET and Romanian Bookmakers, as founding members, while ROMSLOT has a solid partnership with the Federation, and together we will go through the steps to become an active member.

Since its establishment, all three entities have worked together to establish common interests for the industry, so that different and sometimes antagonistic positions can be avoided, thereby achieving objectives to the benefit of all, both retail and online operators.

In the two months since the Federation became active, the 3 associations have worked together and we have managed under this common umbrella to organise ourselves better, to have common messages and perhaps most importantly, to present ourselves to the authorities as one voice. In this respect, our presence in parliamentary committees has become constant, a series of working documents, amendments, analyses, addresses have been drafted, a round table with several parliamentarians has been organised, there have been many meetings with decision-makers in the affected industries, we have proved that the studies that were being invoked in the public space do not actually exist, etc.

Through all this reorganisation and repositioning we have started to re-establish dialogue with the authorities and for this I must thank all the politicians who have understood that only if we stand together can we understand the specifics of the industry, the potential problems and then look for the best solutions.

At the same time, the Federation has a very good, transparent and constructive relationship with the management of the ONJN, and this can only make us happy.

What is the most important thing that the gambling industry in our country needs to do right now in order to be more credible and stronger?

We are accused of three things: the presence of minors in the halls, the level of addiction and the visibility of the industry. Even though these narratives are greatly distorted, I think the industry needs to make an extra effort on these three areas.

As far as minors are concerned, there is already regulation on this issue. The operator who is caught with minors in the auditorium pays a hefty fine and has his licence suspended. Moreover, the presence of minors in gambling halls must be correlated with the figures from the ONJN, and these show us that the situation is quite good. Obviously, we need to work so that such cases no longer occur, but the official figures from the ONJN are far from the figures that are being circulated in the public arena.

On addiction, I reiterate that there are no current dedicated studies. There is only one study by the European Commission which shows that at EU level, gambling addiction, depending on the state, varies between 0.3% and 2.2% of the adult population (which is an acceptable level anyway).

We would be tempted to think that where the level is 0.3% the legislation is very restrictive, while where the dependency reaches 2.2% we have more relaxed legislation. In reality, such an assumption is false.

Bizarrely, the lowest level of addiction is in Denmark (0.3%), where we have the most permissive gambling legislation and where there are more slot machines per thousand inhabitants than in Romania.

This simple statistic tells us something: it is not restrictions such as 300 metres away from X objective or taking gambling out of cities that automatically lead to a decrease in addiction. On the contrary, gamers will move to the unregulated black area. Instead, what Denmark has done to achieve this low level of addiction, despite having an extremely free market, is to invest heavily in education. I repeat, the industry contributes a special tax of EUR 40 million a year to combat this addiction, i.e. around EUR 700 000 a year in taxes to promote responsible gambling. Why are there no educational programmes? Why does the industry still fund them through the Responsible Gambling Association? These are questions that need to be addressed to other institutions.

Both politicians and the general public criticise our industry for not doing enough in the area of responsibility. What should be done, concretely, so that we can show everyone that we are serious about stopping and improving the behaviours of some people who slide into addiction?

This whole situation is unfair. The political class in Romania is pointing the finger at the industry as if we are to blame for addiction, but the situation shows that there are two specific taxes that the state has not used wisely. These are the vice tax and the tax to promote responsible gambling.

The addiction tax is a tax introduced a few years ago, which was justified by the idea that the Romanian state should gather resources to fight this addiction. The annual collection of the vice tax amounts to €40 million. How many programmes has the Romanian state carried out to combat this vice? How many addiction treatment centres has the Romanian state set up? Zero.

The tax for the promotion of responsible gambling is managed by the ONJN and about 6 million euros have been collected and not used on any programme to promote responsible gambling. It is true that the current management of the ONJN is very open to this issue and we hope that, by giving them support through the Responsible Gambling Association, prevention programmes will also be developed by the state.

I mentioned the Responsible Gambling Association because it is the only NGO that does prevention programmes and provides 5 free sessions for vulnerable people. But someone has to pay for these sessions. Who does? The gambling industry, although it has already paid specific taxes for the state to run such programmes.

FEDBET

Can self-regulation be a solution to our industry’s problems? Should we try to do more and communicate better to society what we do well? I ask this because over the years we have heard from companies in our field who have done well by their peers telling us that “we want to be discreet”…

As I said, industry does a lot. In addition to the budgetary impact it has (over €1.3 billion in the land-based industry alone), in addition to the approximately 44. 000 employees it employs, in addition to the tax collection rate of over 98%, compared to a national average of just over 30%, in addition to the special taxes it pays and from which other industries live (sport, cinema, culture), the industry invests massively in education programmes run by the Responsible Gambling Association, supports Romanian sport (not just football), the industry built the only heliport in a hospital in Bucharest and funds hundreds of social programmes.

Obviously, I’ll hear reactions like this for a long time: “You’re doing it to wash your image”. I find that irrelevant. My question is different: “Why don’t others do it?”

I think it’s time for the industry, gracefully, to react and become less visually present through advertising and more vocal through the benefits it brings. That way we might change the general perception as well.





Author: Editor

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