What is the connection between airplanes, the Romanian Parliament and gambling?

Tuesday, 25 July 2023

by Vlad Soare – President of the Federation of Gambling Organizers – FEDBET

In recent months, the Federation of Romanian Gambling Organizers – FEDBET – has made huge efforts within the Romanian Parliament to mitigate the often too passionate and unfounded aplomb of parliamentarians.

As you already know, the gambling industry is in an unprecedented critical situation. We are facing a moment when the question of the industry’s existence is really being asked. Since I took over the Federation’s mandate in February 2023, I have heard hundreds of reactions from the industry reassuring me that the state will never afford to lose the huge sums the industry transfers to the state budget. From the sources I had, I knew it didn’t look like that. Moreover, I was convinced that this argument was worth almost nothing to the politicians I was talking to.

The pressure was huge because they were fed up with what we had done. And we have to admit that we did things that, if we were honest, we would do differently today. And reality doesn’t contradict me. Today, on the streets of the capital, the majority of advertising messages call for Responsible Gambling, a completely different message from a year ago.

Returning to the situation in Parliament. As you know, there are 12 extremely tough legislative initiatives targeting the gambling industry. I have participated in dozens of parliamentary committees where I have spoken and argued in favour of the industry. We explained why the ban does not protect the player, as everything will migrate to the black economy. We have explained why distances should only relate to the vulnerable (teenagers) and why it is not natural to relate to absolutely any cult, educational, banking or non-banking establishment. We have explained that a restriction of rights, such as economic freedom, must be made in proportion to the situation that gave rise to it and cannot lead to the suppression of the right (constitutional obligations). I explained that any restriction measure must be based on a study showing the extent of the problem, which today does not exist. I explained that the proposals will have a negative budgetary impact of more than €1.7 billion/year, that there will be around 55,000 unemployed and that addiction will not decrease, instead there will be dozens of black sites. I explained to them that if they miss the ’90s when the player was tricked into “shell game” on the street corner, it’s enough to continue down that road. I explained how sport will no longer be funded. I explained how the film fund will no longer have a budgetary source. I explained how even Chat GPT recommends that banning gambling is not a solution, citing studies on countries that have done so have not had the desired results, but the opposite (Albania, Russia, Ukraine). I explained that countries with more permissive gambling laws than Romania, such as Denmark, have solved addiction problems through education programs, not bans. We have pointed out that the gambling industry pays a tax on addiction of about 40 million euros/year, that the state has not set up an addiction treatment center and that the industry is also concerned about this issue through the Responsible Gambling Association. I pointed out that the ONJN has €7 million raised from our taxes to promote responsible gambling and has not done any programs. We have explained how the renovation of historical monuments will no longer be possible and many, many other arguments.

None, but absolutely none made a difference. All resulted in a simple postponement. But the danger has not been overcome… And so, with this article, I am sounding the alarm for all those who believe that the situation will resolve itself, for all those who are sure that the state is not at risk.

Believe me, they would have gone all the way and in the absence of joint action, they will go all the way. And if you still don’t believe me, I’ll play you a transcript from the Senate Plenary:

“Mr. Alfred-Robert Simonis:

Thousands of other young people and adults, or tens of thousands, as I was telling you, are destroying their destinies and those of their families, because of these casinos that are located throughout the territory of the Autonomous Communities, especially in large cities. Dear colleagues from the USR, with the law that brings slot machines within 300 meters from schools, you only benefit the biggest players in the market. Explain to her… explain to a mother that if they’re 299 yards from the school the slots have to be closed and if they’re 301 we can leave them open. Explain to a young person who has to walk 500 meters from school to home that they all close for 300 meters, but the others remain open! We are making a serious law, and we have tabled an initiative that is on the Senate agenda. And, yes, perhaps we should make a public request to Mrs. Gorghiu, to the Permanent Bureau of the Senate, to our fellow senators, to urgently adopt the initiative to take these casinos completely out of the cities.

Voices from PSD: Congratulations! (Applause.)

Mr. Alfred-Robert Simonis: Whether they are 300 meters from schools… (Applause.) …whether they are 200 or 500 meters from schools, it doesn’t help us at all; either we eliminate them completely from the UATs, or children will remain dependent. Because if they can walk 300 meters, they can also walk 301 meters. (Applause.) Let’s be responsible and adopt the law, even if it belongs to the PSD, the best one, the one that closes them completely from towns and villages! (Applause. Clamor.)

Mr. Mihai Ioan Lasca:

Thank you, Mr. President. I want to tell you that I have been acquainted with slot players and I know how they do it. A player won’t hesitate to go 300 meters or 2 kilometers. If you want to do some good to Romania, Romanians and mothers who have been destroyed by their children, caught in this gambling trap, eliminate gambling altogether, eliminate it altogether! Because players will sell their phones, their jewelry, go out and play. Thank you.”

It’s one of dozens of public transcripts from plenary sessions where things are somewhat more decent. Discussions in committees, where Fedbet has always been present, are quite different. From insults, attacks on the person, to expressions like: “I propose that we stop arguing about who initiates what. Let’s hit them with this project, then we’ll hit them with your project”, “I’ll vote with both hands on any initiative to ban gambling” and so on.

FEDBET

In these circumstances, I call on all operators in the industry to approach the associations to which they belong, to attend their meetings, to support them and to get involved. Furthermore, I ask the operators to read the report that Fedbet has communicated to the associations, which in turn has forwarded it to them.

Finally, of course, I also appeal to politicians. And, immediately, comes the link between gambling, Parliament and planes.

In aviation there is a concept called “Point of no return” which defines the distance from which an aircraft cannot return to the place from which it took off and is forced to continue its journey at any risk.

This point is also extremely useful in negotiations. When you want to achieve something, you have to be careful not to go beyond that point because once you go beyond that point, you have to go all the way, whatever the risk.

Unfortunately, our politicians have over-emphasized projects targeting the gambling industry. USR started with a project, then PNL came with a tougher project, finally PSD brought a project that closes the whole retail industry. Each party has sought to capitalize on its electorate and deliver a message to a mass of mostly non-players that they expect, without even thinking about protecting the players. Of course, such logic is flawed. You can’t ask the non-smoker if they agree with the smoking ban, just as you can’t ask the cyclist if they agree with the car ban or the driver if they are bothered by the cyclist.

In the quest for the popular vote, it has been ignored that we are fast approaching this Point of No Return, which, once passed, will be extremely difficult to return to negotiation. This Point of No Return is extremely close and if passed, the population that has been heavily involved in this issue will have the expectation that the industry will be completely shut down, not realizing that such a measure will be disastrous for the budget, for the employees and most importantly for the protection of the players who will end up in the hands of loan sharks and the “black” industry.

It is extremely important that in these two months we resume the dialogue and find solutions to address the main vulnerabilities of the industry: minors, visibility and accountability.

Finally, I conclude by giving an optimistic signal. We all want the good of the people, parliamentarians and us. No operator wants addicted players, we are really an entertainment industry. And then, to achieve this goal, we have to join hands and pursue two values: discipline and consistency. Why? Because without discipline we don’t start, and without consistency we won’t finish and we won’t reach our goal.

Under these circumstances, I believe that we, as an industry, must ensure discipline and the state must ensure consistency through a predictable regulatory framework.





Author: Editor

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