Unlike businesses in the dying hospitality sector, casinos can still remain open and work at full capacity in Hungary with the only requirement for them being to close by 7 pm. Centrist-liberal Momentum will press charges against one of the gambling establishments over a leaked video, while green-centrist LMP wants casinos to fall under the same legislation as catering and entertainment businesses.
Starting from the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, catering and entertainment businesses were forced to close and can sell food only for take-away, but casinos were and are still allowed to remain open with virtually the only requirement being their closure at 7pm, besides mandatory mask-wearing. Although an explanation has been repeatedly asked for, the Orbán government regularly points to the legal context, according to which casinos do not fall into the category of entertainment, but are instead considered stores. Another reason is that casinos are less exposed in terms of epidemiological dangers, they claim.
While entire sectors are struggling to survive in Hungary, and many business owners feeling as though the government’s help actually means they are “left on their own,” it is easy to see why casinos’ rights anger many.
Casinos’ exemptions have long been criticized by the media that is not government-controlled, and targeted by opposition politicians too. One of the main points of criticism is that casinos can only remain open because they are owned by people with close ties to the government. For example, at the beginning of February, former Jobbik lawmaker János Bencsik (of conservative Civic Answer Movement) placed a “closed” sign on the door of the Las Vegas Casino’s Corvin branch in Budapest while together with his fellow activists he discouraged would-be guests from entering.
In the latest development, liberal Momentum announced their intention to press charges against the aforementioned Las Vegas’ downtown (Vigadó sq.) branch after a secretly-recorded video in the venue was published by Telex.
Fact As a matter of fact, the five Las Vegas casinos in the capital originally belonged to the late Andy Vajna. After the death of the world-renowned film director and gov’t-ally, the gambling clubs fell into the hands of pro-gov’t construction mogul István Garancsi, and pro-gov’t businessman Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, husband of government spokesperson Alexandra Szentkirályi.
On Telex’s recording, some 80-120 people can be seen playing often shoulder to shoulder with one another, and observing the restrictions quite loosely. According to the liberal-leaning news portal’s report, while one of their journalists has been denied entry to the casinos for the past five years when wanting to enter (most recently to write a similarly-themed article back in March), another guest easily gained access without having a face-mask on him at all.
Momentum president (and PM candidate) András Fekete-Győr argued that
“For them, this too is actually about money and power: casinos are owned by [Orbán’s System of National cooperation] NER to make Fidesz cronies rich, outweighing every epidemiological consideration. This is how all the government’s economic measures can be summed up: we help our buddies, everything else can fall apart. [Hence] they will be easier to buy off.”
In addition, green-centrist LMP also “finds it unacceptable that guaranteeing the income of its economic hinterland is more important for the government than human health.” As a consequence, the opposition party tabled a modification that would subject casinos to the same ruling as hospitality businesses.
A couple of days earlier, LMP MP Péter Ungár and the party’s county president also asked Fidesz’s local MP to support their bill, citing the example of Zoltán Rákosfalvy, a casino owner lawyer from Győr who has been an ally of Győr’s former Fidesz-backed mayor Zsolt Borkai, and was also involved in the politician’s yacht trip sex scandal. Rákosfalvy owns three casinos outside the capital: in Győr, Pécs, and Miskolc, reportedly bagging hundreds of millions in profits each year. Ungár now wants Fidesz’s local lawmaker Róbert Simon to support the party’s aforementioned modification proposal, arguing that
“…while dozens of restaurants and entertainment venues go bankrupt in Győr as well, and decent entrepreneurs’ lifetime work disappears in mere weeks, Zoltán Rákosfalvy did not go to court in recent months, but earned billions instead,”
referring to the sex scandal’s accompanying corruption allegations which have not been backed by a police investigation (although the efforts of the police were criticized by many).
featured image illustration via Zsolt Czeglédi/MTI