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Hungarian PM extends Budapest casino licenses for 35 years ahead of elections

Hungarian PM extends Budapest casino licenses for 35 years ahead of elections

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has extended his allies’ Budapest casino licenses for 35 years, until 2056, less than a year before elections.
The extended contracts come as the parliamentary elections promise to be hotly contested between Orban’s political party, Fidesz, and the opposing parties, which have decided to unite and run as one, United Opposition.

According to Hungarian news site Telex, existing concessions, which lasted until 2024, were reissued after the state allowed itself to do so through a law amendment without a call for bids. Hungary’s Gambling Authority, overseen by Orban’s chief of staff, has listed the extensions on its website.

The ministry in charge of Orban’s cabinet told Bloomberg that the newly issued extended licenses make economic sense, as their terms will generate at least 3 billion forint ($10 million) in extra budget revenue over the next three years.

The five Budapest casino licenses (Atlantis, Atrium Eurocenter, Corvin Promenade, Sofitel, Tropicana), the only ones extended until 2056, are all registered under company LVC Diamond, shows the gaming authority’s site.

Telex further reports that the five casinos combined generate a profit of about HUF 10 billion per year (nearly 28,7 million euro). A call for public procurement was not required, as under the amendment to law casino operations can be declared a “key national economic interest”. This allows for gambling activities to be re-distributed if the initial duration of the concession contract has reached the halfway point.

LVC Diamond is owned by construction magnate Istvan Garansci, a person reported as close to Orban, and Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky, husband of government spokeswoman Alexandra Szentkiralyi, according to Telex.

Orban’s administration has been accused of other similar moves to hold onto profitable sectors in the years to come: in June, the Government launched a concession on Hungary’s 2,000 kilometer-long motorway network for 35 years as well.

As of this report, LVC Diamond didn’t issue any statement on the subject, nor responded to questions by Bloomberg on the license extension.

Viktor Orban has been in power in Hungary since 2010, and is currently seeking a fourth consecutive term in 2022. However, the Prime Minister is facing the strongest effort yet from opposition forces to topple him, running as the United Opposition.

Hungary is currently tied for the last place among EU member states in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index, although Orban has rejected corruption allegations.

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