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Romania bans slot machines in small towns

| By Marese O'Hagan
Romania's parliament has voted to implement a number of strict measures for its gambling industry, including banning slot machines in small towns and rural areas.
Romania gambling regulations, parliament, advertising

Parliament voted in favour of Government Emergency Ordinance (GEO) 82/2023 with some amendments. This law has been in place since 6 October 2023.

One of these amendments dictates that slot machines must only appear in a locality that has a population of more than 15,000 people. Effectively, this bans them from sparsely populated areas.

Approving this ordinance forms part of Romania’s legislative process. Instead of the law being passed by parliament, the government issued an emergency ordinance that was enacted the day it was introduced. But this ordinance still required parliamentary approval, which took place this week.

Parliament had the power to approve the ordinance altogether, approve it with amendments or reject it completely. If rejected, the ordinance would no longer be in effect.

The law is now with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis. Iohannis can approve the law or send it back to parliament.

The law text states that it will enter into force within 10 days of issuance.

What are the main amendments?

Romanian law firm Simion and Baciu says the restriction of slot machines could spell further issues for the land-based gambling industry in Romania.

“This is a significant change for the land-based market which would basically prohibit slot-machine gambling in rural areas or small towns,” the firm told iGB. “This subject has been raised by the governing coalition in several public debates in the last months.

“It seems however that based on certain statements made today by the president of the chamber of deputies (PSD member) the coalition wants to see how the industry will react to these ‘unannounced changes’, and then if it is possible to move forward with other restrictions for the land-based market, such as movement of the gaming halls at the periphery of the cities.”

All the amendments appear in a draft law related to the approval of the ordinance. There are six in total, including the slot machine restriction.

GEO 82/2023 proposed that ONJN – Romania’s regulator – must create a public register outlining information about licensed operators. This would include each operator’s physical locations and information about gaming machines.

However, an amendment proposes taking this further, demanding that the register be updated every 24 hours. In addition, it suggests that B2B and B2C licensees send this data to ONJN every 24 hours. If this is not done, licensees could face a fine ranging between RON100,000 and RON150,000 (€17,213/£25,819/€20,118 and €30,178/$21,603/$32,404).

Advertising rules could extend to igaming

GEO 82/2023 outlines that outdoor gambling advertising could not exceed a 35sqm billboard. But a proposed amendment could see this rule also apply to ads for online gambling websites.

Another proposal suggests a fine for suppliers offering services to companies that do not hold a Class 1 licence to operate in Romania, if they still allow Romanian citizens to gamble. This fine could range between RON150,000 and RON200,000.

Two amendments focus on clarifying joint-venture operations. GEO 82/2023 states that joint gambling operations must only be managed by:

  • Class 1 licensed operators, or
  • A licenced operator and an unlicensed operator that is “under common control” of the licenced operator

But an amendment stipulates that operators must hold a Class 1 and/or Class 2 licence to carry out a joint-venture.

“At a first glance, it seems that the draft law changes the logic introduced by GEO 82/2023 related to joint-ventures,” Simion and Baciu commented. “While GEO 82/2023 established the core condition of “common control” between the licensed operator and the unlicensed partner, the draft law stipulates that all partners involved in the operations must have a licence – but without further indicating the common control rule.”

The final amendment suggests that ONJN should issue a clarification on what activities are classed as joint-venture operations. This should occur within 90 days of the ordinance coming into force.

The Romanian government approved a number of new measures for the gambling industry in October 2023. These included new licence fees across the industry, such as €500,000 for online gambling, €200,000 for lottery and €200,000 for fixed-odds betting.

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