A special interview with PokerFest President

PokerFest President has given an exclusive interview to our publication, ‚ Casino Life & Business Magazine’ where he expressed his opinions about what the gambling industry is about in Romania. He mentioned both positive and negative events, as he is very much familiar with this controversial sector. This is an interview you should not miss. From the current legislation for gambling, to future plans and significant projects, Sorin Constantinescu confirms that he is a careful observer and one of the most meticulous players in our country.

– Hello, Sorin Constantinescu. This is our third interview half way through PokerFest season. How is the third season coming up and how different is the first half of it compared to last year?
– Let’s say that the first half was good, except for Macedonia, where we were expecting more players. We only had 30-40 people for the satellite events and we had to cancel everything else, due to the low numbers. But other than Macedonia, which I did not think would be spectacular only a bit better – the same thing happened in Timisoara, when we hardly registered 50 people, coming from the streets so we would not have to call it off altogether. To be honest, I did not expect the first tournament abroad – somewhere between 700 and 800 kilometers away from Romania – to be a smashing success. We balanced the scales with the other tournaments. Bucharest went very well, Mamaia was great and beyond expectations – over 300 participants. We actually had more than 600 people attending all events, side events, satellites. For the main event and satellites, we broke the record for the countryside. It is true that the weather was splendid – sun galore, beach time, cool parties. That was a truly successful tournament. We made a mistake, though, in scheduling Macedonia too close (in the second week) after Mamaia. People were already tired, they prolonged their vacation thanks to the too good weather – this is why we only had four-five Romanians. We will have a next time and hope for more people to show up. And I am talking about September 2, at the seaside – the weather will still be pleasant – as we had a nice experience there. For October, we have signed a contract with the Hungarian government, as I mentioned earlier. The tournament will be hosted by Budapest and we are looking forward to see lots of people joining us. Hungarians play a lot and have a great potential for this game. A large pool of players, indeed. In November, we will have Bucharest and in December, Brasov will remain our traditional ending for this third year.

– What is new for the third season, compared to the other ones?
– The biggest novelty is playing abroad – so far, we only had tournaments in Romania. And I mean Macedonia and Hungary. Out of four, half of them will take place outside the country. We met in Mamaia, going back there in September, which will also feature a ladies event. The first one went very well, they feel good together, we called it a success.

– Do you think that the Romanian poker has reached maturity, since you were bold enough to go abroad with some tournaments?
– Yes. I would say we should increase the number of players. If going outside is not a financial gain per se, you bring in more players, promote a Romanian brand – PokerFest – we show them who we are, that we are professionals, what equipment we are using. Every tournament abroad means more players from that country for your national events. We are trying to build our reputation as a country – this is at least our main goal for the next two years playing somewhere else than Romania.

– How did the Romanian players take the tournaments abroad? Are they liking the idea or are still reluctant about them?
– I believe that Budapest will be a real grand slam. I hear that very many people want to register for the tournament. Romanians are very competitive and they love to ‚fight’ with players in other countries, which means that everything will be OK.

– Anything else about PokerFest and the third season?
– We are not going to change a lot, since this is a winning formula – everything has gone so far smoothly, hence no changes are required when all is good. I took a closer look at Europe, too. The buy-in amount lowered a little, so we did the same. In Mamaia we had 600 euros instead of 700, and this will remain our top limit for the next tournaments in the countryside. We will not cross this threshold, as the number of players will be higher, have various side events with a smaller buy-in, so they will be affordable for everyone.

– What do you anticipate for the second half of PokerFest season?
– A little bit nervous about Budapest – the tournament moves abroad, there is a contract signed with the Department of Finance in Hungary and with the Hungarian Lottery and I would like to do our best, not to disappoint them – it is about the Hungarian state, not a private company. Expectations? When the poker clubs open in Bucharest, there will be some. I am now in the middle of opening a 30-table club, so that I can have PokerFest there, not in any conference halls in hotels. We will move PokerFest in a club, to avoid the extra costs and have a more poker-like environment.

– What is your take on the law recently passed in Parliament regarding the poker clubs? How will this law influence this increasing pool of players in Romania?
– It is only positively that this law can affect, as the illegal or underground clubs poker turned legal. Therefore, I am not at all afraid to go there and play, not fearing that police will burst into the room telling me either this is a sport on cards or gambling on money. People used to be confused, did not know how dangerous it was playing in such a club affiliated to a sport federation. Now, since it is legal and licensed, we will have many first timers coming to a legit place, which is very good. We got complaints about taxes – it is again normal. After 5-6 years in the black market, with no fees to pay, any charges no matter how small they will seem huge – you have to take some money out of your pocket. After my 25 years in this business of gambling and casino, I believe that the fees are not as high as they say, they are just reasonable. It you are a good manager and pretty good at how you deal with your clients, you will not make millions in euro but you can very easily run a business to stay in the black every month.

– While still talking about laws, what is the news about regulating the online games?
– They are still working on the draft to amend the GR 77. It already went through the Parliament when they talked about the poker clubs; some mentions were made in the general part concerning the monitoring and others – things are moving and we will have some changes for the online gaming. I truly believe that we will go over that 25% in September-October – quite an obstacle for poker, casino, online gaming. If we do, it is going to be a win-win situation for players, organizers and the state.

– You are a person who used and is still involved with gambling. What about the National Lottery?
– While I was with the Romanian Lottery, I forwarded a proposal for association-joint venture between Lottery and private companies, in the form of tickets, bets, etc. My project came to life when the Ordinance 77 was ratified – I read an article saying that the Lottery is entitled to associate with private company – exactly my proposal. I was happy to see one proposal of mine, a business plan, inserted into a law issued by the Romanian Parliament.

– Rumors say that some contracts have been already entered into with certain companies for equipment. Anything about that?
– While we were still with the Lottery, took some steps and initiated talks with the first five companies. Novomatic seems to be in the cards. It seems normal, since they hold 70% of the Romanian gaming market and are still associated with the Lottery. The average of a Novomatic game is as twice as higher as any other one. Therefore, it is quite natural to have the current Lottery Director choose Novomatic. They just exceed any company in Romania in terms of monthly average earnings.

– Novomatic seems to have declined the requirements made by the Romanian state, namely to deposit 75 millions as a guarantee.
– The mass-media spread some wrong rumors. Not at all. Novomatic deposited this guarantee, like the other companies, met all the criteria asked by the National Lottery.

– What do you think the Government will do about gambling this year? They have moved things a little. Will the people be more relaxed or the fees are going much higher or what?
– Expectations are really high because the Office President comes from the private sector and he knows exactly what the situation is with the companies over there. We ran into several legal impediments, inaccuracies. If there is any political will to change legislation, a lot of money can be deposited into the budget so that the state and the organizers be content about that.

– As you already know, our publication, ‚Casino Life & Business Magazine’ organizes the Annual Conference of the Romanian Gambling. Starting with this year, we will have a seminar on gambling on its second day of E-Arena exhibition, so that everyone find out about the latest in this field. Any opinions on it?

– This is an extraordinary idea. My personal idea is to have a round table, open discussions among the Office President, the directors. It would be a very constructive effort and new ideas might spring from there, new legal proposals maybe.

– Do you have a message for our readers?
– I tell them to keep in touch with us, to read the magazine. You have always come with useful information and you were among the first with the latest about the gambling industry.

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