Sorin Constantinescu and a new year

The initiator, promoter and President of PokerFest had the pleasure to give us an exclusive interview. He talked about the past and the future of the tournament and also about how he sees the Romanian gambling market.

– Mr. Constantinescu, we are in the third year of PokerFest tournament. What are the conclusions that you have reached so far?
– The Romanian market is on the rise. I remember the first tournament, in Timisoara, which barely gathered 50 people, some of them forced by friends to join. And now, in Bucharest, we had to deny registration, as we did not have enough seats. People are trying to bribe the staff to get a place in the tournament. After the qualification rounds, all the seats were taken and there was still 40 people left on the outside. A number of 339 people attended the $1,000 Main Event, which is an absolute record for the Eastern Europe.
I believe that the market is growing, so is the poker. Many players come from gambling, roulette towards poker. Poker is a more beautiful game, more dynamic.
If you are experienced and learn, it is very likely you win. Generally speaking, Europe witnessed to a growth in poker, we are going into the right direction. The only hindrance now is the Romanian legislation, as the laws are not a clear cut for the poker clubs on cash. It is a shame, as this activity could grow even more. We still do not know whether poker can be played in the sport clubs or in a casino….how legal this is…where the hand of the law reaches out…. And it is quite difficult for the players who are richer and gamble for fun only. They are rather scared to go to a club like this, as they do not want any trouble with the law. On the other hand, the clubs cannot grow without advertising of any sort.

– Do you have any disappointment about these two last years?
– I would not call it disappointment, but what I can find a fault with is that I have not checked some locations from the beginning – eg. Mamaia – where the hotel rooms were not the best. Mea culpa! And then, it was the Napoca Hotel in Cluj, where services left so much to be desired and everyone went to eat somewhere else.
This is why I travelled to Cluj myself, chose a 5-star hotel that is ranked very well overall. I actually served my meals in the hotel to see first-hand how everything goes and to avoid unpleasant surprises. The name of the hotel is OPERA PLAZZA, right downtown. The players can walk through the historic centre or even downtown in Cluj.
This was my mistake, did not check the hotels thoroughly. And then, I remember the Iasi incident – two weeks prior to the competition, the hotel managers called us to tell that we could not be accommodated there any longer, as they had received a better offer from the Iasi Rally…Hope to not go through the same thing ever again. And there is another issue with our staff – most of our dealers are not our employees. They work with the casinos and we have to rotate them often – it might happen that they are working during the Poker Festival and, therefore, unable to attend the competition (not allowed to take days off from work).
So much better to have your own employees, as they can reach a higher performance and you can keep a closer eye on them.

– We are right before the season 3 of PokerFest. What are your expectations?
– I was so pleasantly surprised during the latest Poker Festival in Bucharest last November. There were 20 players from Spain, Portugal, Italy and other countries. I really hope to see more foreigners during this season, to have a more diversified, ‘colored’ crowd of players. This is what I expect. And maybe we will become even bigger, so that to count the days as 1a, 1b and 1c. For this year, I really trust to have over 400 players for a Main Event in Bucharest.

– What is the novelty for this third season?
– We are working through the last details for… have not said it before now. It is an exclusive piece of news for your publication ‘Casino Life & Business Magazine’ – an all-women tournament. There are so many women playing online poker from home but they are not coming to the tournaments as men are misogynist. Whenever they sit at the same table, men’s biggest desire is to kick them out of the game and take pride in it afterwards. So, we thought of having a tournament for women only. The first edition will be this year, in Bucharest – the first day, starting with 3 pm, women are welcome to join us.

– Is the number of rounds the same or going up?
– We cannot have a higher number of rounds, as the secret of the tournaments lies in the qualification. If there is less than a month between the tournaments, we will have no time for the qualification satellites…plus July and August are dead for tournaments, as most people are on vacation. For 2013, we will play tournaments every month, except for the two above.

– Any rumors that a tournament similar with PokerFest might emerge on the market?
– I have not heard anything like it, but any competition is welcome and the players will pick the best organizer. I am not afraid of competition, I would even enjoy it, because this is the real test for the value of an organizer or of a brand.

– Just leaving aside the poker, a question about the National Lottery. You are the personal advisor of the Lottery General Director. There have been a turmoil with this institution, high interest going on in there. Any opinions on it?
– A little bit disoriented, confused and disappointed by present situation. When I joined the Lottery, there came along a 4-5 people team, all from the private sector – the first management team coming from the private environment, after politicians had been forever in those positions to us. This is a good reason for the semi-bankrupt situation of this institution. A real disaster, as the Lottery has no products any longer, the ‘smart guys’ in there plus the ones in the energetic field have been plaguing the Lottery since 1992 until today (talking about the Greek guys). All the governments promised to get rid of the Greeks, to cancel the contracts and bring beneficial ones. But to this day, no one did nothing and I am really curious to see whether a politician’s desire will come true. Last year, the Romanian Lottery had a 20-million profit, compared to Hungary – 10 million citizens, no slot machines in the agencies and made 190 millions. You do not have to be a casino manager, Lottery, private to figure out that something is fishy out there and political power could be steering this to better.

A while ago, we, the management team, sent a plan to the Department of Finance and the new Prime Minister. No feedback was received, not an answer from them. Our plan says that we could have a 200-million profit per year whether we would be allowed to conclude contracts with the first top five companies abroad, which is zero investment from the Romanian state. For our CV, 20-25 years in the private gambling sector would be extraordinary. Until now, they would not let us do anything, they are even throwing sand in our wheels. The people coming from the Department of Finance – which is the only patron of the Lottery (owns 100%) – are always putting us off, they are rejecting us, even though our suggestions would increase the profit, with no need for capital from the Lottery. It is so weird, all politicians are screaming on TV that the budget needs money and when people come up with a good idea, they are denied and subject of discussion is changed. Whatever it is, goes beyond our understanding.

– What is the deadline for assigning a new management team at the Lottery?
– The mass-media started a scandal; both them and the inside sources say that the procedure has been compromised. Due to this, restrictive criteria are being put in place so they will a selection of the people involved. This is why they want to speed up the process of electing the management team (Act 109) and it is very possible to see it end in the mid- or the last week in February. As media admits, there are very many people selected on political criteria to be part of various administration boards, Bancorex, Hidroelectrica, AVAS, etc… People who are indebted to a party, with no idea of how management works…former secretaries and counselors who are trying to hold a comfy seat, get some money every month.
It is quite painful to see that such a big gambling company is not at all interested to employing specialists who are able to bring in a substantial profit. My heart really hurts, as I am a charitable person. All the National Lotteries donate 20-30% to the sick children, poor people, homeless, stray dogs.
Do you realize how much more a profit of 200 millions would have meant – 40 millions for donations every year is my biggest dream of my life. I would have had no need to be paid – after 20 years in the gambling industry, I am not a poor person. I did not come to the Lottery to get a commission from a paper acquisition or air-conditioned contract, etc. I came here to do a good job and be proud with it.

– The government has changed, new ministers are elected, state secretaries – what does the gambling world expect from these people?
– I used to have so many hopes and so many expectations that… I am really disappointed. I do not know whether I should expect anything else. The black market has been blooming so much…a lot of slot machines in all the villages. They do not want to change the license process – they have now a fee for the room and not for every machine separately. Everyone is doubling, tripling the series, mainly the small companies. They are licensed for 50 machines and have 100 illegal ones. In other words, the underground market holds around 30,000 machines – multiply by €800 average, this will be 24 millions… times 12 months, the amount reaches €300 million per year. Plus, the poker clubs are under the legal jurisdiction. The online sites do not pay any fees to the Romanian state…I have a feeling that a good management combined with proper laws will bring the state budget to €500 millions.

– What do you think about the second edition of the Romanian Gambling Conference, February 13-14 this year? Is it the right time for it?
– I believe this is a perfect time for all the reliable operators in Romania, who pay taxes and fees and want to have a fair competition, to say their opinions, be heard by the authorities. It would be good to have more officials invited over, to sit down around the table and have good talks.
Timing is good, as the gambling laws require urgent changes – so many casinos are closing their doors. It is high time they spoke about these issues. The first was a success, which I hope for the second, too. A bigger success is an imperative, as the problems are tougher now.

– As a conclusion, what is the message for our readers?
– While considering that most come from the gambling industry, are poker players, I want to tell them to stay close, to read the latest in your publication. You have always involved and had pertinent opinions to all the issues in the gambling sector, its changes and novelties. This publication is a good place to get information from and always up to the minute.

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