Orban Allies Win 35-Year Casino Contracts Before Elections

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government extended his allies’ Budapest casino licenses until 2056, acting less than a year before hotly contested parliamentary elections.

The permits to operate five casinos wouldn’t have expired until 2024, according to the Telex website, which was first to report the news. The government gaming authority, which is overseen by Orban’s chief of staff, listed the extensions on its website. 

In a response to emailed questions, the ministry in charge of Orban’s cabinet said the new licenses make economic sense as their terms mean they’ll generate at least 3 billion forint ($10 million) in extra budget revenue over the next three years.

Orban, who’s been in power since 2010 and will seek a fourth consecutive term next year, is facing the strongest effort yet from opposition forces to topple him. He’s also been accused by the European Commission of doing too little to fight graft, prompting the European Union’s executive to withhold billions of euros in pandemic aid.

Among EU member states, Hungary is tied for last place in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index. Cronyism is a “key feature” of Orban’s administration, according to the Berlin-based watchdog. Orban has rejected corruption allegations, which he’s said stem from a misunderstanding of his effort create a new national elite.

The Budapest casino licenses all belong to LVC Diamond, according to the gaming authority. The company is owned by Istvan Garancsi, a construction magnate close to Orban, and Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky, the husband of government spokeswoman Alexandra Szentkiralyi, Telex reported.

LVC Diamond didn’t respond to a phone call and didn’t immediately reply to questions on the timing and circumstances of its license extension.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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