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The saga of amendments in gambling regulations continues – but are they applicable for all those affected?

June 2024

By Ana-Maria Baciu, Andrei Cosma and Adela Nuță


NOTE: This article was prepared based on the text of the Government Emergency Ordinance as it was presented at the Government meeting on June 28, 20241. At the time of writing this material, the version adopted by the Government had yet to be published in the Official Gazette. According to the currently available text, the ordinance will come into force upon publication.


The legal framework regulating the gambling industry in Romania continues its wave of changes with the recent amendments to Government Emergency Ordinance 77/2009, approved at the Government meeting on June 28, 2024. This time, although the information available on the official Government website following the adoption of the ordinance states “This ordinance introduces new regulations that adapt gambling legislation to socio-economic realities, aiming to protect vulnerable groups,”, it appears that these changes will nonetheless restore economic balance for gambling operators too.

Can these measures provide a positive outcome for all affected gambling operators active on the domestic market, or only for certain categories? This is the key question that arises after a first reading of the Ordinance text.

A first aspect to highlight is the conditional exemption from the obligation to pay authorization fees for economic operators who no longer hold a valid gambling license, regardless of the reason, and who, consequently, also lose their operating authorizations.

Thus, the amended text of Article 17, paragraph 9 of Government Emergency Ordinance 77/2009 introduces a more specific wording, stipulating (with differences more in form than in substance from the previous wording) that the obligation to pay the difference in the annual fee arises upon revocation of the license, during the suspension of the operating authorization, or in any situation where the operator eases to operate the gaming equipment for which they hold valid licenses and authorizations.

As for the newly introduced paragraph 92, it indeed represents a significant change compared to the previously existing legal framework. Essentially, this provision stipulates that operators covered by paragraph 9 are no longer required to pay the difference in the authorization fee, and any excess amount of the fee already paid may be refunded, provided that the operator notifies the National Gambling Office (ONJN) about the relinquishment of the license or the cessation (even partial) of activities due to “legislative changes regarding authorization conditions, subsequent to the date of obtaining the authorization.

In our view, the clear reason behind the adoption of this legal provision is related to the protection of property rights and the undue burden that would fall upon the license holder, who would otherwise owe the authorization fee for a year, yet is unable to conduct their activities during that authorization period due to circumstances beyond their control, and which could not have been anticipated at the time the license was obtained.

The disproportionate nature of the previous regulation is thus mitigated by the current provision, which, however, does not specify what constitutes “legislative changes” that would trigger the activation of the new legal regime. Consequently, it appears that the new regime applies to any legislative changes regarding the conditions of authorization that arise after the date the authorization was obtained.

From our perspective, there have been at least two legislative changes within a period of less than a year prior to the adoption of this Government Emergency Ordinance that would fit this definition. These widely recognized changes include the substantial increase in guarantees imposed on operators through the adoption of Emergency Ordinance 82/2023 and the restriction on the operation of slot machines in areas with a population below 15,000 inhabitants, introduced by Law 107/2024.

The working premise for economic operators is that this new Government Emergency Ordinance essentially has a remedial purpose and is intended to correct certain consequences that may be considered unjust for operators. Given this framework, it can be argued that the new regulation might also be applicable to operators whose licenses were revoked before June 28, 2024, if the revocation/cessation occurred due to legislative changes (such as the increase in guarantee amounts or the restriction on operations in less populated areas).

From a legislative technique perspective, in the absence of specific temporal application guidelines within the text of the Ordinance, it could be argued that such an application of the text is not retroactive, also considering the Decision No. 291 pronounced by the Constitutional Court in 2014, “a law is not retroactive when it modifies for the future a legal status established previously, nor when it suppresses the future production of effects of a legal situation constituted under the previous law. In such instances, the new law simply terminates the ongoing application of the previous law and governs the manner of action following its entry into force, operating within its own scope of application.”.

Therefore, we appreciate that the fundamental reason for extending the benefit of the law to all those who cease their activity due to actions solely attributable to the state is that, if interpreted otherwise, respectively applying only to companies that will cease their activity in the future as a result of future legal changes, the remedial objective of this legal provision would be at least partially undermined.

Based on the interpretation of the new regulation in the spirit of equity, it can be argued that the benefit of this new law must be applied equally to all those who find themselves in the situation above. A contrary interpretation could be considered discriminatory, as there is no justification for allowing a clear difference in treatment among companies in similar circumstances (companies organizing gambling activities).

In practical terms, any alternative interpretation would lead to a situation where an operator ceasing operations one day before the ordinance’s publication in the Official Gazette would face a fundamentally different legal circumstance compared to another ceasing operations the day after.

Another controversial point addressed by the legislator, which was deemed needing clarification through the present Government Emergency Ordinance, concerns the much-discussed slot machines aspect, whose placement had already been restricted to administrative-territorial units with a population of over 15,000 inhabitants. The new regulatory act clearly specifies that this restriction applies exclusively to administrative-territorial units represented by communes, towns, or municipalities, and to the population having their domicile therein.

It appears that assessing compliance with demographic criteria has become more straightforward, facilitated by querying TEMPO Online or other statistical databases provided by the National Institute of Statistics. Furthermore, the analysis necessitates ongoing monitoring, conducted both by the ONJN and by the gambling operators themselves, who are given the opportunity to report ex officio on this matter.

The adjustment of the demographic criterion below the legal threshold requires an immediate notification from ONJN to the slot machine operators within three business days. Upon receipt of this notification, they must promptly suspend their operations within the same three-day timeframe. The Ordinance text does not indicate the format or the legal implications of this notice.

The continuous monitoring of compliance with the demographic criterion appears to be complemented in the new legislative framework by an obligation of vigilance imposed on gambling operators as they are also empowered to notify ex officio regarding any failure to meet the conditions for continuing their activities. In those scenarios they must promptly cease their activities and are further obligated to inform ONJN within 48 hours. Nevertheless, the recently introduced legislation does not impose sanctions if operators fail to fulfill this obligation, which seems to emphasize compliance as a procedural requirement rather than an outcome-based mandate.

To summarize, the recent amendments to Emergency Ordinance 77/2009 Emergency Ordinance 77/2009 were crafted with the aim of introducing clarifications and regulations intended to establish a more transparent and equitable legislative framework for Romania’s gambling industry. However, the effective implementation and interpretation of these provisions by authorities will be pivotal in determining whether these changes genuinely foster the sector as a whole or inadvertently lead to differential treatment among gambling operators.

[1] Available here: https://sgg.gov.ro/1/proiectele-de-acte-normative-care-ar-putea-fi-incluse-in-sedinta-guvernului-romaniei-din-28-06-2024/


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