Players are slowly coming out of the shadows, as classy poker clubs in Romania are starting to replace the old and dirty underground joints.
Poker has a controversial past in Romania. Due to the unclear Romanian gambling laws and society’s misconceptions, poker players stayed in the shadows for a long time. But the rise of online gambling across Europe opened up new possibilities and helped a few talented players turn their hobby into full-time careers.
Learning the rules and secrets of the game on their own and training on online poker sites in Romania, the most skilled players have proved their talent to the world. The game has seen significant growth during the past few years and is becoming more and more popular across the country.
The time has come for people to stop hiding in shady gambling dens and gather in luxurious venues designed especially for them, where they can meet other players, participate in tournaments and do what they do best: play some high-class poker.
Our series on poker in Romania will cover:
The hazy past of online poker
While all of Europe was embracing the online casino market and poker sites were becoming increasingly popular because of the many tournaments and prizes offered, Romania was still associating gambling with crime and prostitution.
If the new gambling taxes are approved, players will have to pay:
• A EUR 11 casino entry fee
• 2% on net earnings from sports bets and video lottery terminals
• 0.1% on each hand played online
Even though poker is not just a game of chance, but one that uses strategies, requiring skills and intelligence, people who played this card game as a hobby were still tarred with the same brush. To most people, there was no such thing as a “professional poker players”. They were nothing but shady individuals who don’t want to get a job and choose to play cards instead.
So online poker sites became the perfect refuge. These licensed websites offered safe and secure ways of playing poker, they offered the discretion people needed and allowed them to keep earning a living by doing what they loved most: playing poker.
Romanian players started accessing poker sites much before local authorities even figured out that they need a legal framework for this growing industry.
Poker clubs, a new trend
Things have changed since then. The country has several world-famous poker players, who have earned millions of dollars throughout their careers. You could also say that poker has become somewhat of a fad in the country and clubs are the latest trend.
There are a number of poker clubs in Romania, most of them located in large cities such as Constanta, Iasi and, of course, the capital Bucharest. However, fans of the game will find such venues even in smaller cities, such as Oradea.
The luxurious PokerFest Club in Bucharest opened its doors last September, inside the Pullman Hotel. Customers were given the full red carpet treatment and invited to a special inaugural tournament with a great EUR 50,000 prize pool. With 582 players joining this first competition, it became clear that the demand for poker clubs in Romania is very high.
Now the poker community is facing new challenges, with authorities threatening to block foreign gambling sites. If this actually happens, these clubs and casinos will be the only places where people can enjoy a game of poker.
What’s next for online poker?
While poker clubs do have great offers and regular tournaments, not being able to play online would be a step back for Romanian gambling. Now poker players are waiting to see how the National Gambling Office will move forward with its plans to block operators without a local license, and for the government to pass a new taxation policy which was announced last year, but then postponed.
Last December, the National Gambling Office forwarded a new proposal which aims to eliminate the tax on gambling winnings and introduce new fees for casinos. The new legislation would also impose a 0.1% tax on each hand played online. Authorities estimate these changes could bring an extra EUR 7.5 million income to the state’s budget.
So the future of online poker in Romania is uncertain, but at least poker clubs are here and they’re spreading nicely across the country. And as long as the game is legal, talented players will find a way to develop their skills and make their way to the top.