Almost six months after the entry into force of one of the legislative initiatives widely debated on the public agenda in Romania, the law banning smoking in enclosed public places remains a hot topic for the gaming industry.
For this reason, we have seen fit to resume and to hear from ROMSLOT, the first association that we know has taken an official position, even since last year, from the beginning of the debates in Parliament on this project. Valentina Dobre, Vice president of ROMSLOT, who took part in the deliberations of the Health Committee, admitted that it was not an easy time inside the Parliament and that she was confronted once again with preconceptions on the gambling industry.
From the outside, one could see that there was a segment of the civil society which had a vehement stand against smoking in public places. What can you tell us about how they conducted debates in the Parliament?
The discussions in Parliament themselves were held under the media pressure of the matter, given that there were people who took the streets to advocate against smoking in public places. It was even a larger audience than usual in the debate hall. ROMSLOT proposed the exemption of the gambling from this law. What we argued was that it is imperative to have a new regulation that ensures the protection of both clients and personnel from the effects of smoking, but also optimal operation of economic operators in this industry.
The main stake was to exempt the games, but we have proposed alternatives, back-up solutions, to support the legitimate interests of our industry, for example to allow smoking under the condition to have high performance ventilation (devices that extract smoke and replace it with fresh air). ROMSLOT, the Association of Slots Organizers, stressed and will continue to draw attention to the fact that the gaming industry has its own characteristics and that the legislative projects which influence it must take into account the legitimate interests of economic actors herein and the specific of the industry. The fact that the industry was self-regulated through initiatives that promote responsible behavior from the players and operators, such as the „Responsible Gaming” programme, contributed to the development and strengthening of a genuine dialogue with the authorities. They could observe for themselves, through concrete evidence, that we are an industry with a professional and responsible approach and we believe that the authorities will take into account the characteristics of the sector in which we operate when establishing the final form of the draft laws under discussion.
Where are we now? The stakes are played again this fall?
Discussions to refine the law by introducing amendments designed to balance
things continue to be intense. The biggest stake is represented by the way of defining the „closed public space „ and the exceptions to be maintained. The next important round takes place this fall. Although the context is particularly complex, in the new round of debate there is an opportunity to support industry’s specific arguments and ROMSLOT will fight again in the interest of the gambling market.
Currently, in the legislative process there are three bills on amending the actual law preventing and combating the effects of tobacco use. There is a bill that is quite advanced in the Chamber of Deputies after it was passed, last summer, by the Plenum of the Senate. At the opening of the parliamentary session this autumn, the talks will restart inside the specialized committees where this bill will have to be adopted by the Chamber of Deputies also since the law itself concerns the transposition of a European directive on tobacco products, whose term of application is already exceeded. Through this project, a modification of the law on smoking was tried, through a less restrictive redefinition of „closed public space” and the introduction of new exceptions regarding places where smoking is allowed. The proposals were adopted by the Senate, but inside the Chamber of Deputies it is already facing opposition from a large group of members of the Parliament.
Besides this bill, there are two other projects aimed at smoking which is on the Senate legislative circuit, through which we try also to exempt gambling from the law. The directions we are going further were also supported in the previous session namely: exemption of gambling and recalling existing alternatives. This fall, we rely on the fact that some projects will reach the specialized committees for debate, which are more oriented towards assessing the economic aspects of the problem submitted.
Based on what arguments does the gambling industry discuss with the authorities?
• Many of the EU countries allow smoking in the gambling halls. Although there is prohibition, inside many of the EU countries, smoking is still allowed in many of them, under certain conditions. In countries like Italy, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, the entertainment spaces, including gambling halls, are exempted from the prohibition of smoking.
• The decrease in revenues of the businesses in this sector implicitly leads to lower contributions to the state budget. The figures in the industry already indicate a decrease of approximately 30% – 40% of business revenues in the gaming industry. The percentages are all the more worrying as they come amid increased taxes related to the industry. Restrictions on smoking will have a significant impact on the market. In many cases, the player combines the game itself with smoking, which is why the total ban imposed on smoking in game hall led and will continue to cause significant losses for industry. Therefore, removing players from card rooms because of these restrictions will continue to negatively impact business sites and will, by default, lead to a decrease of revenues for the state budget. But it does not stop here.
Should the situation continue to remain in its current form, some companies will have to consider reducing the number of slot machines, an by default the number of jobs, issues that will affect not only the state budget but also the labor market.
• The industry supports directly and indirectly, social programs and promotes a responsible business model. Resulting from the interaction we had in the Parliament, the fact that we run a social responsibility project helped in the discussions, proving that this industry has a serious and professional approach, that the industry goes into a regulated area.
In addition to the significant contribution at the state budget, ROMSLOT argued, during the talks with the authorities, on numerous occasions, that the gambling sector already contributes directly to supporting the objectives of social interest, including support of public health and encouraging responsible approaches at the market level through:
– Direct financing of social programs by diverting taxes collected in the budgets of the responsible institutions. For example, 7% of the taxes charged to the state budget is directed towards projects with direct social impact: the cinematic fund, the restoration of historical monuments, educational programs, programs dedicated to youth and sports, as well as for the program of the rehabilitation of hospitals.
– Social responsibility programs dedicated to their own clients, proving the Romanian industry aligns with the European trends and professionalism of the local market.
– The „Responsible Game” project, a self-regulatory program existing for 4 years now, is currently run by ROMSLOT and Romanian Bookmakers associations. It is the most efficient project that provides real help to those players experiencing gambling problems, and also to their families through psychological phone-counseling (dedicated line, type TEL VERDE), counseling sessions offered by the team of specialists of the program and through providing information and self-assessment tests available on the program’s website, www.jocresponsabil.ro.
Unity is needed in the industry and a responsible approach to business ROMSLOT will continue to work this fall to represent industry interests. But to prevent the adoption of legislative initiatives in extreme forms, jeopardizing the existence of entire economic sectors important to the state budget, the association stresses that it is essential that all actors on the market to act united. To have one voice and advocate together to protect common interests, which in this case affects the very survival of many of them? Eventually, to be fair, the projects adopted must take into account the specificity of all economic sectors and the possible effects. This aspect becomes possible after consultations with industry actors and after understanding their arguments. But for this it is necessary that we all involved in the industry to act together because our legitimate points of view to gain weight and be heard.
Regarding smoking, the message we want the authorities to understand, and we can do so only with the entire industry land based, is that gambling is a form of entertainment and should be regulated as such, taking into account its specificity. ROMSLOT always campaigned for a legislative framework that regulates in a fair and transparent way the economic operators, which protects their legitimate interests and make them and the players involved, more responsible.