What follows is a transcript of the interview given to the Gazeta Prawna newspaper by Artur Górczyński, deputy in the Polish Parliament and head of the “Poker is not gambling” association.
Gazeta Prawna: What goal do you think the Ministry of Finance is trying to achieve with the draft bill to the gambling law?
Artur Górczyński: Their only goal – and it’s an obvious one – is increasing budget revenues through gambling taxes. However, the new laws they plan to enforce are deeply flawed. The creation of a gambling monopoly will not bring the expected results, whether covert – that is, the fiscal goals – or those officially stated in the bill i.e. the protection of players. The Law & Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) government is trying to correct the mistakes of the previous government, but it’s making many mistakes of its own. Monopolising the market will not reduce the number of addictions. On the contrary, it may even increase them. What never changes is the arrogance of those in power and a lack of transparent discussions and debates with experts who know all the aspects of the gambling market inside-out. During the 7th term of the Sejm (Polish Parliament), I was dedicated to exposing the flaws of the 2009 Gambling Act. Today, I can see many of the old mistakes being repeated. I am aware that Law & Justice set up a Team for Analysis and Thematic Studies dedicated to gambling before the elections. I also know the initial ideas for changes to the bill and I guarantee that none of them assumed a State monopoly. Everything changed in the first quarter of 2016. There was an uproar on gambling websites and social media platforms. The changes were supposed to be influenced by the lobbying of 2-3 companies. I think it might be a story worth investigating by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau. These suspicions are caused by the fact that the debate on amendments to the gambling laws were far from open and transparent. It is also worth noting that the proposed solutions are incompatible with European law. As I recall, we are still an EU Member State. To summarise my answer to your question – it is increasingly obvious that the legislator’s only goal is increasing revenues, which will most likely cause an uncontrolled increase in addictions. It is no accident that the government justifies the changes stating the opposite.
Gazeta Prawna: Is creating a state monopoly on slot machines (let’s leave out poker, please) a good idea? If not, why?
Artur Górczyński: Taking full responsibility for my words, I would say no. A state monopoly in the gambling industry, including slot machines, is a bad idea. From day one, the state would have to spend around 7 billion PLN on the purchase and maintenance of slot machines. It is worth noting that there are only two companies in the world able to provide such a large number of machines in a short period of time. One of these companies has been working with the future monopolist, the state-owned Totalizator Sportowy, for several years. Nevertheless, the Ministry has wrongly estimated the balance of profit and loss. It looks like very few of the necessary costs have been taken into account. I am referring to the purchase or lease of slot machines, establishing gambling arcades, premises maintenance, lease, CCTV systems, hiring employees and funding addiction diagnosis and treatment, etc. Contrary to what it may seem, the market itself will not be transparent. There are entrepreneurs who have been in the business for years and years. What are they supposed to do now? Will the government suddenly tell them to get rid of their machines? I realise that gambling has negative connotations, so let’s take a different industry as an example. Say the government had a brilliant idea – let’s increase budget revenues by establishing a monopoly on baking and selling bread. All the bakers would be left with their equipment and production buildings. They would be banned from any further activity. Does that sound like a good solution? Every government assumes that it will not make mistakes. But a monopoly on power does not give you a monopoly on knowledge. This proves that no monopoly will bring the expected results. I think that illegal gambling will still thrive. There will be arcades offering not only slot machines, but free drinks, coffee, alcohol, or even food. Gambling has existed for thousands of years and many governments have tried to ban or monopolise it. The results were always similar. The only states which have effectively prohibited gambling are Islamic countries, but I wouldn’t consider them the best example to follow.
Gazeta Prawna: Do you think that states should try and limit access to gambling? There are many countries with liberal gambling laws that do not have large amounts of addicts.
Artur Górczyński: The state should create clear operator-friendly and more importantly user-friendly legislation. Introducing a state gambling monopoly isn’t good for any of the parties involved. It simply won’t work, just like it didn’t work in Italy, Denmark, Spain and Sweden. Let me remind you that Law & Justice often refers to the solutions used in Sweden, despite the fact that Sweden has since changed its laws, as the previous ones did not bring any effects. On the contrary, an increase in the number of illegal gambling points was noted. These establishments offered more attractive offers than the monopolist. Besides, competition and customer care always boost development, while monopoly causes stagnation. This is why Sweden is planning on making the same changes the Danish government made a few years ago. It is worth noting that Denmark and Great Britain are considered perfect examples of changes and solutions in the gambling market, especially in terms of safety. The level of addiction in these countries does not exceed 0.03% (!), despite the fact that both gambling and advertising games are generally permitted. On one hand, companies invest eg. in the development of sport sponsorship, while on the other, they invest in the players’ safety and prevention of gambling addictions. Once again, instead of learning from others’ mistakes, we will have to learn from our own. It’s a shame.