PokerFest and a new year

“I hope for at least one World Poker Tour and EUREKA in 2014.”

Mr. Sorin Constantinescu, here we are again for the traditional meeting to talk about PokerFest at the beginning of the year. What can you tell us at this moment?
Many changes have occured, even major we could say. We dropped the traditional tournaments outside Bucharest and opened the poker club at Pullman Hotel on September 20, since the poker clubs went legal. We had two more tournaments, one in Macedonia and the other one in Budapest, Hungary. Here, we have concluded a longer-term contract with the Department of Finances in this country,as the casino is state run and belongs to the Hungarian lottery. We did a tournament in November and we will go to another one on January 17. For this year, we have scheduled a four-tournament cycle in Hungary. With God’s help and the people in Romania, my understanding is that we will not be able to bring here tourists and do international tournaments without paying 25% on the player’s winnings for certain games. I really hope to have at least a World Poker Tour and an Eureka, should the online poker is legalized. At least. This would be our vision for 2014. At first, we were just too excited and enthusiastic about opening a PokerFest club chain in the countryside. But then, since the poker club is quite a novelty, we thought we should look at it more carefully and see exactly what it involves. We will wait to gain some experience and determination and we will go outside the cities a little later.

How was PokerFest 2013 compared to the 2012 edition?
We have registered an improvement in both the number of tournaments and their value. Experience has paid off. We lowered the buy-ins, as this is the European trend, so we had €800 instead of 1,000 for our latest tournaments. As for the number of clients, it was the same. The latest at Pullmann Hotel, hosted by the conference room had 250 players. For €800, it was a smashing hit! We went to Budapest, for a €1,000 event and there were 180 players from Austria, Hungary, Croatia and just a few Romanians – only 15 in the qualifying rounds and 4-5 at the Main Event.

Tell us about the number of the players at PokerFest.
The number of players has remained unchanged. There are only a handful of new faces. They are pretty much the same in a percentage of 80-85%. They are regulars at the tournaments in the last 2-3 years. Very few new ones. We have to admit that the time is not quite favorable to make money. The live version has not witnessed any spectacular increase and very many favor the online playing. Once the poker clubs have become legal, many of them opened in Bucharest and throughout the country. Do you sense any competition because of the other clubs in Bucharest? No, we are at a different level. I have been in this business for 23 years. The others who opened the poker clubs have been for only 2-3 or 3-4 more in the illegal business. But we have another standard,other criteria, other professionalism level. This is why I am not afraid of the competition. We do not have tournaments under 100 RON, while the others go with 25. I really do not know what they are going to do should they change the club entrance fee to 20 RON. They will have to make adjustments to the tournaments – whoever comes to play a 25 RON tournament cannot pay 20 RON to get into the club. So far, there is no competition and that is very unlikely, considering my experience and the number of tournaments I have organized – including World Poker Tour and the PokerFest. I would be ashamed to say that I would have any competition anywhere.

During the Award Gala of Casino Life & Business Magazine, you were presented with the ‚Year Inauguration in Gambling’. Do you agree with the vote of the readers?
This is what I hope. For us, the priority has always been professionalism, reliability and the brand. The financial and the winning mattered less. I made my money ten years ago, as I had already said. I am not interested in the financial side. To be honest, too, I would not like to bring money from home. But, again, I do not dream to make millions of euros from the club. I like playing poker and I play it all the time with the people here. We are very close, like in a family. We socialize, they are people of a high quality. People coming here to play have common sense. To prove that I am not desperate about business or money, I already have over 50 people (in only 3 months) on the black list, because they were too loud or used a foul language or threw the cards at the croupier face. In other words, I never allow people of low condition to break the regulations. And there were high rollers playing in the VIP area games like Omaha 50/100 or 25/50 whom I put down on my list because their attitude was wrong. If someone does not respect me and comes in my house, I will do the same thing.

Let’s go back to legislation. In our view, the year of 2013 was good, mainly because the National Gambling Office was opened. How do you evaluate its activity so far?
You are well aware that the Office as an institution means nothing. The people working there are very important though, because they have been in this industry for quite some time and gained experience. The President, Mrs. Odeta Nestor, has worked in casinos for years, Marius Pantea is the Chair of the Department of Fraud Investigation at the Police Academy – we co-authored many books and articles and helped me tremendously, was even part of my PhD commission. The same for Mr. Dan Bucur, who is the Director of the Control Department and has been working for years with IGPR for fraud investigation and casino controls. There are people who understand exactly the matters in this industry, you can talk to them and understand that we have joint interests – to have a fair competition market, to dissolve the underground market so as to bring money to the Budget. The only issue with the Office is that the legislation or the legal initiative is the responsibility of the Department of Finances. And for the last 15-20 years, we and the Office have been dealing with the same problems. We do not touch on them, but I see it in how the legal projects or drafts are evolving. I am fully disappointed. They have called all the professional associations at the Advisory Council and we were presented with a project and told that it was a final decision from the Department of Finances. Another inappropriate and rigid project.
The measures that will be taken, talked about in the media in the last years, do you think they are good? Are they a solution to this longtime disease of the Romanian gambling?
They should! We have been struggling for years, more exactly since 2007, when the article was removed from the Fiscal Code. We have been trying to prove them that it is impossible to collect 25% from the games where the participation is not printed, such in a casino or slots or poker, where the man moves from one machine to another or from one table to another. You can never do the the bookkeeping, the flow of the money coming in and going aut. That would be a huge step! It would be something, as we could start bringing tourists, be able to develop, to do international tournaments. We would no longer be afraid that the Revenue Office or ANAF might drop by or to blackmail us that we did not collect the 25%, which is an impossible task. Otherwise, the Department of Finances itself has not succeeded in this entreprise.

What is your take on the online? Will the 2014 be the online launching year for Romania?
As I said, everything lies in those 25%. If people start thinking right – I mean the Department of Finances, as the Fiscal Code is their responsibility, not the Office’s – and realize that they can make some money out of licenses and online fees, they will be able to cash those 25%. But we have a deja-vu. The same things happened when Mr. Ialomiteanu was a Minister of Finances and Mr. Bodgan Dragoi a State Secretary. We negociated with the Department of Finances and replaced the 25% with the entrance tickets. One day before the Government Meeting, someone in the Social Dialogue Commission went to the Realitatea TV channel that broadcast – Breaking News: retirees charged, gamblers pardoned. And this is how the entrance tickets and those 25% were left hanging. Now it is the same! After talking about it at the Office, the documents were sent to the Social Dialogue Commission and again someone said something stupid and I had all the media jump on me. And two days prior the Government Meeting, the media started asking questions,’Is it true, sir, that gambling will be exempt from charging? This should be out of question…’. I was lucky that Mrs. President is a level-headed person and she invited for a Press Conference where she explained that the gambling charges are going up. An amount of €200/machine/year has been added, which multiplied by 60,000 devices will mean a positive budget impact of €12 millions. Instead of 20 RON, the entrance fee is now 50, which is a lot, especially now when people are playing for 100 RON. In other words, 50% of his playing money goes to the entrance ticket. The poker clubs are going through the same – they charge 20 RON instead of 10, which means double amount! Many additional charges have been set and the media said nothing about it, no word. People should be informed that gambling is exempt from charging. The media is always distorting the truth! In the end and after the press conference, people calmed down and their understanding was that the gambling charges have not disappeared but they are rising up.
So we should hope that 2014 will be the online year in Romania?
We really have high hopes. I told you, it is not up to the Office but the Department of Finances and their people. If they want to get this thing straight or lend their ears to the specialists at the Office or the gambling experts, they should be able to change something. If they remain rigid and the only thing is to look at thee charts and papers and to the positive/negative impact, nothing will ever change and those several millions of euros in the online sector will remain uncharged.

A few words about the Awards Gala of Casino Life & Business Magazine, where PokerFest Club was presented with the ‚Year Inauguration in Gambling’.
It is not because we received an award, but the Gala was spectacular. I have attended this event since the beginning and I was able to see how everything has improved every year. To be honest, this year has been the greatest of all, in all aspects – organization, guests, ambience. It was a real grand slam!

In 2014, we will have a third edition of the Romanian Gambling Conference. How pertinent is this event?
It is quite opportune, as gambling is still not a slam dunk case. There are many things to talk about and any dialogue between the authorities and the economic agents is more than welcome.

What are your expectations from PokerFest in 2014?
Everything revolves aroung those 25%. Should they remove this charge, we will be able to do a lot of international tournaments and bring many foreign tourists. This will translate into a positive impact for the State Budget and for the touristic area of Bucharest. Even now, as we speak, a tournament just ended in Prague, with over 2,000 players. They stayed there for two weeks. You can imagine what 2,000 people mean for a city during that time, people who are casino players. They are real poker players, not corporatist, who have €10 in their pocket and credit card. They spend like water. Prague hosted European Poker Your where the buy-in was €5,000. To pay that money to register, you need at least another 5,000 or 10,000 as your pocket money, airplane fare, hotel accommodation and so on. It is huge. Tens of millions euros were spent in Prague. And instead of having the events organized in Romania, we are just looking at them on the internet and see how they are doing things. If we have those 25% removed, then PokerFest will blossom and we will set up very many tournaments, lilke World Poker Tour, Eureka, etc.

A few final words for the readers of Casino Life & Business Magazine?
I wish them have the best year ever. And, since many of your readers are involved in the gambling industry, I wish them good luck and stop increasing the fees so that we can walk together in the same good direction.

Thank you and good luck!
Same to you!

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