Be careful, if you are in Budapest and want to play poker for cash, because in Hungary the colour of your activity can easily fade to black.
Hungary has no betting culture like Great-Britain, however there is a well-known booking practice amongst sports fans that traces back to the traditions of the state run football pools called Toto. No widespread illegal or semi-illegal booking activities are known, maybe because when the Hungarians gamble, they do it on cards.
• Gambling means cards for Hungary
• Poker regulations are nonsense
• Easy to stray to the dark side
Ulti is Hungary’s national card game with a big tradition of cash play, however it is for three players and is very complex with a varying set of rules, and therefore it is quite hard to learn. Snapszer, which originates from Germany (Schnapsen), and is the national card game in Austria, is much easier and it was really popular in Hungary. Just until Texas Hold’Em, a game invented for cash play, conquered Europe, including Hungary.
When the poker boom occurred between 2003 and 2006, Texas Hold’Em became extremely trendy in Hungary, and many operators started to organize illegal poker events. The authorities have been fighting them since, but you can always find a small town pub where the owner provides a table for a party intends to play cards in cash – without realizing that according to Hungarian gambling laws, he or she actually runs an illegal card room.
If you want big, go to a casino
As is the case with most countries, in Hungary any bet on a card game with a possible prize win is recognized as gambling too, if game of chance is accountable predominantly for winning or losing. While professional poker is considered as a sport where strategy and tactics are prime contributors towards winning, regulations identifies poker games as gambling.
Legal gambling is limited to offices run by the government, licensed casinos and card rooms, so if you decide to play poker in cash, or regarding any wager that bears real, material value, you can only do it legally at the places above. On paper anyone can officially run a poker room in Hungary with the permit of the tax authority, but it is clear to see that this is nonsense if you just want to play cards in cash with your best friends.
You will find it especially absurd if you had a look at the requirements of a place aspiring for a license. Hungarian poker rooms have to be run by a company with a minimum capital of 25 million forint, and it can have 5 to 10 tables with a maximum of 10 players, and a video surveillance system is a must. As the blinds are maximized at HUF 500/1000, and the maximum buy-in is HUF 100,000 max. only, it is hard to see that you will become a millionaire in any of those anyway.
If you take the 40% taxes into account too, and the fact that poker rooms with 30-40 tables and above can really be profitable, you will understand that the regulations don’t fit for entrepreneurs either. As the laws are very strict, covering a relatively thin line, there is a natural need for playing cards at larger stakes, as well as in a more casual and informal environment. Both of those are illegal, though. The rules for casinos are far more permissive however, so legal poker at large happens there, but to run a casino is a completely different story than a poker room.
Illegal is tempting
There are operators who knowingly continue to organize poker events that are beyond regulations obviously. According to gambling news, certain clubs claimed their tournaments to be free events for club members only, calling the entry fee a ”membership fee” to be spent on developing the club itself. However, they were paying huge prize money for the winner of the poker tournament. In recent years the Hungarian authorities reportedly expelled these kinds of activities as well as alleged club events promoted by popular magazines and poker sites, but considered as illegal doings too.
If you run an illegal poker room, and you do it at large, you can expect that the authorities will come after you sooner or later. If you keep it small, you are still illegal and could get caught, which could lead to a prison sentence of up to two years in the worst possible case, but your chances are obviously much better. It doesn’t matter if you’re participating or not, if you are present or not, you are still a possible target for the system, if you own the place.
However, if you organize such games only occasionally, and you do not flood the streets with your flyers promoting the event – which is illegal in itself, as it qualifies for advertising an illegal activity – you do not have to fear a legal procedure. Still, it is better to play in a licensed casino or a registered poker room, but if you just spice up a casual party with playing some cards in cash, you are obviously not considered to be a criminal.
It is important to note that if there is a poker game in an illegal poker room, the organizers are not the only subjects of a possible legal process, but the players also. So, before getting in, you’d better check out the certificate of the place which has to be hung up near the entrance in a seeable spot, to make sure that you don’t gamble with the devil.