In a move that has raised numerous eyebrows, the Hungarian authorities have once again decided to block prominent online betting sites such as Bet365, Unibet, and Betfair. This article aims to provide an in-depth analysis of this development, delving into the reasoning behind the state's intervention, the implications it holds for both players and the online sports betting market in Hungary, and the possible outcomes of this significant shift.
The Hungarian Supervisory Authority for Regulated Activities (SZTFH) announced on 7th September its decision to block access to renowned sports betting sites from Hungarian IP addresses. The stated objective behind this move is to protect players from the potential harms associated with online gambling. However, it is crucial to question whether this decision is solely in the interest of the players, or if there are underlying motives aimed at consolidating power and benefiting individuals close to the government.
The timing of this blockade is especially noteworthy. Back in June, the SZTFH disclosed its plans to work in collaboration with banks to block accounts linked to illegal gambling, including restrictions on deposits and withdrawals from unlicensed gambling sites. This indicates a broader and more comprehensive approach by the state in regulating the online sports betting market.
The market for online sports betting in Hungary is a lucrative one, with the state-owned Szerencsejáték Plc. having reported a turnover of 822 billion forints (EUR 2,135,000) last year. The recent abolition of the monopoly held by Szerencsejáték Plc. has paved the way for a competitive market, leading to the emergence of new players such as LVC Diamond Ltd., owned by the well-known Fidesz-oligarchs Árpád Habony and István Garancsi.
The granting of a remote gambling licence to LVC Diamond Ltd. under the name Vegas Sports is a testament to the power and influence wielded by these oligarchs. This licence allows them to legally place bets on various sporting events through their website, vegas.hu, thereby cementing their position in the market.
The decision to block foreign betting websites is not without its consequences. Historically, these sites have defended themselves against such blockades, and players have had access to alternative links to continue placing bets. The allure of bigger winnings, a wider range of sporting events, and superior service has consistently drawn players to these foreign sites, despite the risks involved.
As is well known, on September 7, several service providers, Betfair, PokerStars, Unibet and Bet365, appeared on the website of the Supervisory Authority for Regulated Activities (SZFTH) with banned pages. The biggest online poker site in Hungary GGPoker is still accessible for Hungarian residents.
Furthermore, it is important to note that Hungary's highest judicial body, the Curia, ruled in 2018 that the previous blockade of these sites violated EU law on the free movement of services, leading to the lifting of the bans. The recent decision to reinstate the blockade brings into question how the state plans to navigate these legal waters and what steps, if any, the international companies will take in response.
In summary, the recent developments in the online sports betting market in Hungary represent a significant shift, with potential implications for players, the market dynamics, and the legal landscape. While the state's intervention is ostensibly aimed at protecting players, it is essential to scrutinize the broader picture and consider the potential benefits that may accrue to those close to the government. As the situation continues to unfold, it will be interesting to observe how the market adapts, how foreign betting websites respond, and what the legal outcomes will be.