Romania has had something of a rollercoaster relationship with gambling in the past century or so, in line with a similarly turbulent period in the country's general history. Despite the activity's widespread popularity in the early 20th century, the country's inclusion in the Soviet Union from 1945 - 1989 saw all forms of gambling banned by a repressive communist government. Since then, the democratic government has welcomed both physical and online gambling outlets - but the issues aren't over yet.
Romania’s ties to gambling can be traced back to 1906, when the Loteria Romana or national lottery was created. After the introduction of a democratic government in the 1990s, all physical gambling activity was once again made legal. The first new casino was opened in 1991, but like many countries around the world, Romania was slow to anticipate the popularity of online gambling after the widespread adoption of the internet.
The government initiated foreign investment in the Romanian gambling industry, particularly sports betting, as far back as 2003 - possibly as a gesture to show that the country was ready to join the EU. Since Romania was granted admission five years later, the country has been forced to follow vague European Court rulings relating to online gambling, which was technically neither legal nor illegal because no legislation existed.
This was partially rectified in 2010, when the Romanian government passed an act that made online gambling legal, but only to those companies who were successful in attaining a government licence. This proved to be something of a Catch-22 situation, as no regulatory body existed to hand out any such licence. As a result, many foreign online companies started offering services in Romanian, and the government did nothing to block it. Although it was still officially illegal to play on these foreign sites, without a regulatory body to oversee and uphold the new law, it was hardly likely that anyone would be reprimanded for this crime.
Finally, in April 2013 the government created the regulatory body necessary to oversee the country’s online gambling. However, the set-up of the National Gambling Office was challenged by the EU for two reasons. The first was that the NGO licence required any online firm to also have a physical base within Romania, and that the servers maintaining the sites also be situated there. The second was the tax scheme for online poker, which would have seen every individual bet taxed. Although this was reworked to now tax only Gross Gaming Revenue, the EU has still raised objections.
Following the general European trend, football is the most popular sport in the country in terms of spectatorship and sports betting. However, Romanians have a wide interest in other sports including tennis, rugby, and slightly more unusually, gymnastics. Romania has won a total of 24 Olympic gold medals in the discipline, including three at London 2012, and will be looking to add to this number at Rio 2016.
Romania has also hosted some of the world's biggest poker tournaments in the past few decades, including the Romanian Poker Championship, which attracts players all over Europe to the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bucharest every May. PokerFest 2013 also took place in the country’s Golden Tulip Resort, in the tourist town of Mamaia near the Black Sea.
There is no doubt Romania has made much progress with regards to its physical and online gambling industries, even if the NGO is still finding its feet. However, the EU government and other countries within the organisation have openly criticised Romania and its legal bodies for the high levels of corruption with its gambling industry, going so far as to block Romania’s application to the Schengen free movement agreement for these exact reasons. The country may have to work harder to clean up its image in order to make its gambling industry a more legitimate and prosperous enterprise, but for now, its inhabitants are still free to play online as they wish.