Exclusive Interview with Bogdan Coman – Executive Director of ROMBET
Our colleague Szaló Réka managed to catch up for this exclusive interview with Mr. Bogdan Coman, who is the Executive Director of ROMBET ( Romanian Gambling Organizers’ Association).
EEG: Thank you very much for being available for this interview. First I would like to ask you to shortly introduce yourself. I have read in your CV that you have been in this industry for quite a long time. Why did you choose gaming, or may I ask: did the industry choose you? What do you think?
Coman: It’s a rather interesting way of putting it, because this is actually what had happened in my situation. After graduating from university, my initial orientation was towards banking and commerce. It was in a totally non-formal context – at the gym – where I met my first employer from the gaming business. I was looking for something more dynamic and challenging than the banking environment, and truth be told, I was never the suit-and-tie kind of person, in the classical sense of the word. So, with a sense of adventure and excitement that has governed my youth years and is still very much present I would say, I made the leap from total conformity, to non-conformity. From start, I felt the industry fitted me like a glove. I had absolutely no trouble in adapting, thus I got the chance to put some university-acquired skills to work, mainly in marketing in the first stages, but then I moved towards the real challenges of assembling teams and managing workflow. I think that once you get into the industry, there have to be some real changes in the way you see things, I mean fundamental shifts of direction to get out of it. You never get tired or know enough of it to feel that you are stagnant and no longer progressing, broadening your knowledge. It is as glamorous on the inside, as it projects itself for the public, on the outside.
EEG: Currently you are the Executive Director of Rombet. Will you please tell us more about this association, its activity and its goals?
Coman: I have joined Rombet recently and quite naturally because there was a feeling that I was lacking the overview of the industry. I was so busy with specific industries, mainly bingo, slot machines and live casino that I couldn’t yet rise above the tides and look at the gaming business as a whole, to understand the underlying forces that are governing it. This is exactly what I found in Rombet, a professional vehicle with a macro environment perspective, situated at the heart of the industry, at the junction between the regulator, the gambling organizers and other 3rd parties serving the industry, and the players. The association acts for the benefit of all parties who are at stake here. It’s supporting the one hand the organizers, with proving counselling on matters like specific gambling legislation, fiscal and civil legislation, marketing, recruiting, etc. Via our communication infrastructure, we share ideas, examples of good practices, warnings of danger and all relevant information between our members. On the other hand, through our responsible gaming programs, we provide a platform to help people fight addiction and change their views towards a healthier relation to gambling, based on entertainment.
EEG: What role did or does Rombet undertake in developing the legal gambling framework in Romania?
Coman: Considering the European principle of decisional transparency, in the last years, the industry in its whole has contributed to the reshaping of the legal framework. As permanent member of the Consultative Council of the National Gambling Office – a body within the Office which was specially conceived for dialogue between public authorities and the market, we always bring to the table of the law-maker the problems and concerns of the industry, which we get first hand from our members. Since its inception, we have participated in each Council session, and as a result of the market’s joint effort, alongside other associations and important operators, came about the latest changes updating of the Ordinance 77/2009, and most important the application norms stated in the Government Decision 111/2016.
EEG: I suppose you face a lot of difficulties in your work of explaining the current legislation, in implementing gambling projects in Romania. Tell us please about your experiences, the difficulties you have had so far and how did you overcome them.
Coman: Unfortunately the major difficulty comes not from inside the industry, but from a broader perspective. The industry has right now a stable and coherent legal backbone which of course is perfectible, but it’s something straight through, that can be followed by any investor, international or local. The real danger comes from the macroeconomic environment as its whole, meaning from a country level. At most seminars and events where we’ve participated, we could see that we are still looked at as a very interesting market, still with unexploited potential especially in the online sector, but with problematic legal environment. Now that the world is shrinking by the day with all the communication technology which is transforming information and making it accessible almost instantaneously, it should come as no surprise that fingers are pointing at us because of our political instability. This in turn translates into unpredictability for investors which are shifting attention towards markets who can offer a healthy perspective for long term investments. It is only with patience and with a clear depiction of our country’s landscape that one can hope to make a change and leave their mark for stakeholders in this market, institutional and private ones.
EEG: What is your opinion about the actual state of the gambling industry in Romania? What are the major issues that should be solved and what role can Rombet play in this process?
Coman: Romania has now what I would call a roughly mature market, with gambling products that are highly competitive, especially in the slot and betting sectors. But maturity comes with a price, because it segregates the old style operators, the ones which did not strive for improvement, for progress, from the new comers and the innovators, who saw that only with investments and desire for better you can remain competitive nowadays and grow your business. And this is only one perspective of the industry. The other one is the sometimes divergent interests of the land-based and the online markets. And examples can continue. We see ourselves and the other associations in the industry as mediators and facilitators for everybody who has a stake here. As we don’t seek profit, we can channel all effort toward fighting for a fair market, that suits the interests of both online and land based operators, both small and big ones, and across all branches (casino, bingo, slots, betting) in an unbiased manner.
EEG: I am sure that the association you represent has a clear vision regarding the future of gaming industry in Romania and why not of Europe. Please tell us about the future or near future plans of Rombet.
Coman: One can only predict the future of the industry, relaying on key indicators of the present. From what we can see happening in the industry, the global tendency of migration from traditional to online is present within the gambling environment also, with a growth of this sector far greater than its land based brother. Also, with the global landscape of increasing violence and uncertainty, we can expect authorities to tighten their grip on all industries, especially the ones that are more exposed to money laundering (right now it’s on public debate a legislative proposal with aim to harmonize the European directive AMLD4 against money laundering with the domestic legislation)
EEG: In our country things change very quickly and unfortunately we have to admit that the political and economic situation of our country is not stable enough, it is rather unstable and hectic. Does this affect your work? Does it hinder you and the association you represent in reaching your goals?
Coman: Of course the unstable politic climate takes its toll on everyone, but we prefer to look at the full half of the glass. There have been 4 years of stability as regards to public authorities involved directly in the gambling market. The NGO has been doing a great job so far, and probably its birth was the best thing that happened to the industry as regards to regulation. Now that the management has changed, we are even more optimistic because the current President comes from among us, has loads of experience in the private sector of gambling and therefore he can help speed-up processes and find ways to eliminate bureaucracy, which is still one of the flaws in the system. The underlying problem remains the fact that at the end of the day, the NGO is still subordinated to the Government, and when there’s instability in the first line, all the other lines stand to suffer, not just because of actual changes, but because the psychology of the public worker is greatly affected by the overall uncertainty, and so productivity is plummeting. So, from our standpoint, probably one of the biggest challenges that we are facing is working with demotivated people, who would rather wait for something to happen instead of making something happen. And this is not only in the public sector, this perspective has spread to private sector also.
EEG: Fortunately Rombet has a lot of members. For me this means that you have more and more partners who help you to achieve your plans. Tell me please more about membership; who can be a member of Rombet, what are the advantages of being a member, and also what feedback do you get from your members.
Coman: Our organization has grown very healthy over the last years. More and more operators see the opportunities that lie in being part of a greater group, and how their interests will be better sustained when they join forces. Right now Rombet has over 40 members, out of which more than 10 are international companies. We pride ourselves by being the only association with a global view on the industry, because we don’t target specific sectors, we represent the industry in its whole, and because of that we have most types of licensed companies from the Romanian gambling industry: large betting companies, large slot halls organizers, medium and small betting organizers, online international operators, domestic online organizers, auditors, certifiers, slot management system providers, platform providers, game providers, slot machine vendors. Basically our doors are open for anyone in the gambling market, because as I have said, we promote the interests of the entire market, not of different niches. Being a part of the Rombet family comes with advantages first because you are part of a community, where members support one-another and exchange information more rapidly. Second is the fact that members interests and threats faced in their activity are regularly brought to the attention of the regulator, within the sessions of the Consultative Council, so Rombet acts as a link between the organizers and the NGO. Third but not least, we council and provide specialized advice for our members, especially for international ones who don’t have the in-depth knowledge of the market and how all the wheels are spinning.
EEG: Which has been the most successful experience since you have worked at Rombet?
Coman: It’s still early to boast with successful achievements, but I think in the last few months, the most rewarding experience for me was that I could put to the test the knowledge acquired in the years of working in this industry, and hopefully we’ll see in the future how this will help grow our association even further and in turn provide more valuable experience for our members.
EEG: If you could change anything in the world of gambling what would that be?
Coman: I hope you are not referring to the whole world of gambling, because it’s too tough a question for me 🙂 . If you are asking me about “our world” of gambling – Romania, the answer is perception. I would change the public perception of our industry. There is still too much exaggeration when it comes to the negative side of gambling in Romania. We need to be more objective. Our industry is not doing more harm to society than fast food industry for example, or beverage industry. It’s all about balance. If you are a responsible person, you understand that gambling is for fun, and therefore you can no longer stigmatize the industry of being harmful. Of course problem gamblers are part of the industry, and it is in operators and authorities responsibility to pay as much attention and offer as much help as possible for them, but they are a small fraction of the market. The rest of it, are people just like you and me, who enjoy the boost of adrenaline when they are making a bet. It ultimately comes down to acknowledging that there is just a difference in semantics between “lose” and “spend”. When you go to the restaurant, to the movies, on vacation, you don’t “lose money”, you “spend money”. That’s exactly what happens when you gamble, you “spend money” for a passion, for adrenaline, for excitement.
EEG: Who is your favourite actor or actress?
Coman: Kevin Spacey
EEG: Where would you travel the most in Central Europe?
Coman: So far I have traveled the most to Austria, mainly because of my passion for skiing and snowboarding. I also enjoy Czech Republic a great deal, and I think from a business perspective, I would travel most to Poland because I view it as the cradle of biggest opportunities for gambling.
EEG: Which are those places in Central Europe that you are not interested in, and you would not like to visit them?
Coman: Experience so far has taught me that opportunity sometimes lies where you expect the least, and so there is no place or activities related to my work that I am not interested in. There are just some that are more interesting than others. I welcome any challenge, and would travel anywhere to expand my experience and broaden my views.
EEG: Thank you for the interview Mr. Coman, we really appreciate it. Have a lovely summer and all the best to you!