Eye on Europe - 17 May 2007

17 May 2007

Hungary, Part 1 -- I received an e-mail from Mark Balestra, the editor and co-creator of Interactive Gaming News, asking if I could write about Hungary's plans to expand into the online casino market. Since Mark reigns with an iron fist, I immediately started to read up on this, but I quickly learned that media reports on these developments were erroneous. A phone call to Péter Talyigás, the communication director of the monopoly of the Hungarian Lottery, brought into light that there will be no online casinos introduced at state-owed gambling company Szerencsejatek Zrt. The Hungarian government does not have to change legislation, as initially reported, and the Gaming Board of Hungary doesn't have to be involved. The plan, as it turns out, is for soft gaming with no money games.

Hungary, Part 2 -- The Hungarian government today announced a bill regulating state asset management, to be submitted to Parliament this week, to privatize a number of state-owned companies, including Szerencsejáték. Finance Minister János Veres stated, "The government has decided also to merge the state privatization agency ÁPV, the Central Treasury and the National Land Fund into a single company named National Asset Manager, which will take over the role of managing the state's assets."

Even More Fun -- Dr. Wulf Hambach of German law firm Hambach & Hambach explains the German ban and gambling act respectively: "This gambling treaty has to become valid in all 16 federal states. If even one state--and that seems to be Schleswig-Holstein--is going for a liberalization, and the other 15 would agree on the new gambling act with a ban on e-gambling, in the beginning of 2008, than we would--for 100 percent--have a non-consistent gambling regulation in Germany. The gambling act would be immediately and successfully attacked by the private gambling industry as a clear non-consistent regulation that is neither in accordance with the German Constitution nor with the Treaty of Rome." Hambach was the first person after the German Constitutional Court's Verdict to say that the German federal monopolists "will go back to the stone age."

Italian Blacklist -- It has been assumed by some that the recent liberalization of the Italian gambling industry has put an end to the Italian government's blacklisting of online gambling operations, but Ernesto Apa and Yan Pecoraro, both lawyers of the firm Portolano Colella Cavallo, are quick to point out that this is not the case. "The blacklist is still in place," they said in a joint statement, "even following the initial wave of 'liberalization.' The Autonomous Administration of State Monopolies (AAMS) issued a decree on Jan. 2, 2007 effectively confirming this. As of April 11, the blacklist contained more than 600 betting Web sites that are officially blocked for Italian Internet users. Any ISP that fails to implement measures to block access to unauthorized operators can be fined between 30,000 euros and 180,000 euros for each breach, and ISPs are liable for third parties with respect to the blacklisted contents visible in their network. However, please note that from a technological perspective the blacklist seems to be inadequate to its purposes. Indeed, even if the list is regularly updated, several Web sites providing unauthorized gaming services have never been included in the blacklist. Further, a few hours after the issuance of the blacklist, it was also easy to find alternative ways to access blacklisted sites. Moreover, the restriction applies exclusively to Italian ISPs; therefore, the blacklisted sites may be visited through an Internet connection provided by a foreign ISP (as is the case, for example, in certain hotels owned by international chains)."

Rob van der Gaast has a background in sports journalism. He worked for over seven years as the head of sports for Dutch National Radio and has developed new concepts for the TV and the gambling industry. Now he operates from Istanbul as an independent gambling research analyst. He specializes in European gambling matters and in privatizations of gambling operators. Rob has contributed to IGN since Jul 09, 2001.