Hungary was on the losing side of World War II, which resulted in lost territory and a devastated homeland. The once-proud country became an Eastern Bloc satellite during the Cold War, and Russian military force was used to put down a burgeoning anti-Soviet movement. Not until 1991 did the nation regain its freedom, which eventually led to membership in both NATO and the European Union (EU).
Under a newly empowered government, it was the historic Hungarian Gambling Act of 1991 that brought order to the countrys unregulated gambling market. It also made possible a state monopoly to lord over the entire industry. Even today, when third-party bookmakers and gaming corporations are allowed to establish local ventures, all gambling establishments in Hungary must be majority-owned by the government.
Of course, the Gambling Act has come under fire from the EU. A complaint has been filed against Hungary for breach of conduct, and in 2007 the European Commission directed that the law be changed to allow open competition in the sports betting market. To date, however, no resolution has been reached.
One of the first initiatives taken under the Gambling Act was a state lottery to raise revenue for federal projects. The so-called Szerencsejáték Zrt was founded in 1991, and it has grown to offer a complete line of lotto type games, number games, keno, scratch cards and sports betting. Following the rise of the Internet, lottery games were made available online, too.
Casino gaming has also been made available under government control. Hungarian citizens can enjoy slots and table games at some 22 venues around the country, the vast majority of them established under the Merkur brand. In Budapest alone, there are a dozen gaming venues, including the Tropicana Casino and the sprawling Casino Las Vegas at Sofitel Budapest, both open 24/7 for visiting foreigners and locals alike.
Pari-mutuel betting has been a part of the Hungarian gambling scene since as far back as the 1880s. Tickets were once sold in tobacco shops as well as at lottery offices. Today, there is one horse racing track in the country. The Kincsem Park racecourse in Budapest features thoroughbred flat racing events, with fixtures scheduled from May through December.
All sports wagering in Hungary is monopolised by Szerencsejáték Zrt, which operates some 300 direct betting outlets throughout the country. Another 3,600 point-of-sale retail locations are also authorised to issue bet slips. The monopolys exclusive rights over the industry extend until the year 2020.
Szerencsejáték Zrt began providing a limited selection of sports betting markets online in 1998 and extended availability to SMS texting via mobile devices in 2002. No other legal Internet betting has ever been allowed.
As an indication of how serious the Hungarian authorities are about protecting their monopoly, in 2004 the government went to court to block U.K.-based sportingbet from reaching the local market. Then, a further crackdown in 2006 forced Hungarian banks block payments made to online casino sites and poker rooms, notably sportingbet and BetandWin. Financial transactions using credit cards issued by MKB, Citibank, IEB, Takarebank and K&H Bank were also blocked.
Despite such efforts to make it difficult for Hungarian citizens to wager online, the majority of Hungarian gamblers continue to frequent gaming sites based outside the nations borders. Hungarian online bettors are not restricted by major software groups such as Real Time Gaming and Microgaming.
CasinoCity estimates that some 471 sports betting web sites currently accept play from Hungary, of which 17 are offered in the Hungarian language. The latter group includes those operated by unibet, expekt, ladbrokes, bwin Sportbook & Racebook and betsson, to name a few.
Although the Forint is the national currency of Hungary, the Euro is the primary unit of exchange used at Hungary-facing sportsbooks. Visa credit for Hungarian cardholders is accepted by some 1,976 gaming web sites, of which 86 offer Hungarian language support. MasterCard has 1,881 affiliated venues, with 87 offering support in Hungarian. Numerous eWallets, including Abaqoos, Citadel Direct, NETeller and Moneybookers, also welcome transactions from customers based in Hungary.