With a ruling party super-majority in the Parliament of Hungary, simply pulling the levers of powers should be enough to move any desired legislation through the political process in a normal and legal manner. However, for well over 2,500 days now the government has used that absolute majority to do some things without transparent debate or utilizing other hallmarks of liberal democracy – instead relying on simple decrees to accomplish the State’s business.
That’s not to say that the emergency powers completely constipate the government, as can be seen in the online gambling industry through the lens of the country’s Gambling Act – something Hungary has been “trying to get right” since the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued rulings in 2016 and in 2017 which should encourage the government to come into compliance not to infringe the freedom to provide services (Article 56 TFEU) or grant non-competitive concessions.
The Supervisory Authority for Regulatory Affairs (SZTFH) has recently issued a decree implementing minor changes to allow amendments to the country’s Gambling Act to function more fairly or efficiently.
Technical Clarifications, Fees
Operators who wish to offer online sportsbetting there must meet certain financial requirements and prove up at least five years of experience offering licensed online gambling services in a European Economic Area state. Any operator who has offered unlicensed gaming within five years of the dated application will be rejected from consideration for a license.
In an attempt to protect bettors from harm, operators will be able to offer early cashouts on sports betting wins but the operator must warn the player about the immediate gratification of such an action as it could contribute to gambling addiction.
The decree reads: “The gambling operator is obliged to expressly draw the player’s attention to the fact that the use of this function entails an increased risk of excessive gambling and addiction and this information shall appear in the text of promotion in the same font size as the text.”
It continues: “The gambling operator shall also make available to the player on the gambling website the information that the use of that function entails an increased risk of excessive gambling and addiction.”
In order to facilitate early cashouts bettors will now be allowed to have segmented account balances rather than one master balance.
Early cashouts are subject to any regular terms and conditions of other withdrawals.
Recent History of Changes
Early last year, legislation was introduced to help Hungary come into compliance with anti-monopoly measures that should promote a more free and open market as many nearby EU states have done. At the dawn of 2023, several conditions or technical changes were made that could apply to casino operators as well as sports betting providers.
However, none of the changes loosen the hold on remote casino licenses that are still tethered directly to the three main land-based operators. While the CJEU ruled in Unibet’s favor in 2016, ostensibly opening the door to other European online casino operators, the land-based casinos can be declared a priority of national economic interest. This allowed budget items in the 2021 work sessions to grant 35-year extensions to the casino licensees without a public tender process.
The workaround used, according to local democracy watchdogs was to re-allocate the concessions as at least half of the original concession period had come to pass. This was purported to assure the state continuity in revenues for the long term.
A government-connected stakeholder in Las Vegas Casino group is operated by Diamond Játékaszinó Üzemeltető Kft. (LVC Diamond), the most important urban casino operator was originally granted a concession in 2015 that was set to expire in 2024 but now extends to 2056.
Our research does not find any mechanism in legislative accomplishments or decrees that would untether online casino licenses in Hungary from land-based operator licenses so it would appear as if at least one operator is locked in.
The LVC Diamond properties include The Atlantis, Atrium Eurocenter, Corvin Promenade, Sofitel, and Tropicana casinos.
Tax Authority Retaliated Against Operator for Lawsuit
One thing the Unibet lawsuit did accomplish was to tease out a CJEU ruling that recognizes Hungary’s online gambling rules did not allow the taxing authority to take retaliatory actions against other EU-licensed operators as it did in response to Unibet filing suit. Those actions included ordering ISPs to block access to the site and the levying of fines against the operator and its parent company, Kindred Group.
In short, while the process for licensing land-based casinos and thus their tethered counterparts online may not be in line with EU standards, there isn’t much, if anything standing in the way of a Malta Gaming Authority-licensed casino offering services there.
So far, SZTFH has not authorized any foreign operators to offer sports betting with all regulated consumer traffic still flowing through Tippmixpro.hu – operated by the former and still a de facto monopoly of Szerencsejáték Zrt.
Source: Hungary regulator implements new Gambling Act amendments, iGaming Business, March 29, 2023