Between 2014 and 2018 the Hungarian Gambling Authority (“HGA”) had actively sanctioned international operators for online gambling services provided towards Hungarian customers. Hundreds of litigations were commenced to challenge the numerous sanctioning resolutions of the authorities by the international operators. In the wake of CJEU judgements in the Unibet (C-49/16) and then the Sporting Odds (C-3/17) cases, the HGA’s activism was put on hold in 2018 because the underlying Hungarian gambling laws were found to be incompatible with the EU laws.
Despite the CJEU judgements the relevant Hungarian regulatory regime was not substantially modified ever since, the rules and characteristics that were found to be of concern from an EU law perspective remained in force.
After such precedents, this Autumn the HGA, now as part of the newly established Supervisory Authority of Regulated Activities, has been recommencing investigations against the websites of EU based operators with directly stating that they consider the services of EU based operators as illegal towards Hungarian customers.
For the time being it is not clear what the motives and objectives of the HGA are, however, if they consider the services of EU based operators as illegal despite the prevailing CJEU judgments, they will likely restart sanctioning and blacklisting. Administrative sanctions might extend to the blocking of websites and fines up to EUR 280,000, and some renewed attempts to find a way to apply criminal law measures might also be expected.
If the renewed activism of the Hungarian regulator would result in renewed sanctioning practice as well, it will likely open another chapter in the history of the HGA’s disputes with international operators. It goes without saying that EU based operators might (and most likely will) challenge the potential sanctions applied by the HGA before the national courts of Hungary which have a track record of well-understanding the underlying EU laws and actively seeking guidance from the CJEU if needed.
As a result, the next couple of months will be pivotal for the years to come in the Hungarian online gambling market, the HGA might put an end to the de facto cease-fire that has been in place ever since 2018 with the international online gambling operators.
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