In what would be fair to say is an unexpected move, Hungary is to review domestic sports betting legislature with the aim of ultimately liberalising online gambling licensing.
It is significant, when considering where the industry is going globally, that Hungary is in the small group of countries in the EEA – the others being Norway, Finland and Switzerland – with a monopoly in online sports betting. Such a set-up can be rigid and vulnerable, so the fact that Hungary’s state backed monopoly, Szrt, has been on the receiving end of numerous challenges in the Court of Justice of the European Union is only to be expected.
In an ideal world these inward looking protectionist monopolies wouldn’t be in place, and people would be free to pick and choose from multiple providers regardless of geographical jurisdiction, so Hungary moving to dismantle their virtual barrier should be seen as a welcome, forward-thinking step.
Indeed, future licensees from anywhere within the EEA will be welcome. Moreover, the protection of Hungarian customers will be paramount, with operators being required to adhere to social responsibility considerations via both domestic and international measures.
Note that these possible license relaxations concern only sports betting. As far as other online gaming is concerned, the existing set-up will remain unchanged, with the present (bricks & mortar) operators still being the only option. Consequently, the offering for those in Hungary wishing to participate in other – non-sports betting – online gambling is still going to be limited.
Meanwhile, it seems that companies that accept customers from EEA countries without a license will not be allowed to operate in Hungary. Cynics might point out that this could be a way to keep out licensed Maltese companies that already ‘let in’ players from Hungary, but it could also be seen as simply blocking operators whose practice contravenes the rules set in place in Hungary. It boils down to interpretation, and herein lies the potential problems that are inevitable when trying to find the right practical happy medium in domestic and international jurisdictional rule-making. Pleasing and protecting customers while creating a playing field that best suits all concerned is a conundrum. Furthermore, finding the ‘sweet point’ where a country’s own legislature runs in the most part in tandem with whatever rule changes the powers that be in Brussels can make at any time is another issue.
Time will tell as to what happens in Hungary and, down the line, how ending a monopoly might impact on the rest of the online gambling sector. It’s impossible to please everybody all of the time, but affording people more choice has to be the way forward. Allowing companies from other countries to operate ‘at home’ is never going to be easy to police, and nor is keeping up with the European party line, but the proverbial omelette can’t be made without breaking a few eggs.