The wonderful news for Italy is that the first quarter of 2016 grew by more than a fifth. In addition to this recent news. Official government reports show an increase of more than 21% since this time last year.
Currently there are five land based casinos and none of them are located in Rome. The casinos are scattered throughout Italy. The most elaborate of all casinos is located in Saint Vincent, Casino de la Vallee. They are fancy establishments with a black tie dress code. Both slots and table games are offered, but slots are the most popular.
February of 2011 poker and other casino games played for real money became legal. Online poker for real money became legal in July of the same year. Prior to then, the only legal form of online poker was tournament play. New laws passed in 2011 enabled sites to also open up online cash games with a maximum buy-in of EUR250. Operators were also required to pay 20% of gross profits in taxes.
Online slot machines were not legalized until December, 2012. The Italian gambling regulatory agency, the Autonomous Administration of the State Monopolies (AAMS) approved online slots based on its finding that slots had accounted for more than half of Italy’s land-based casino earnings in 2011.
The successful launch of online gambling has brought along with it a lot of controversy, with one hotly debated issue the many new sites that have been cropping up run by foreign operators. Both the Italian Government and online operators within the country with a vested interest have been continuously trying, without much success, to limit online betting sites to those based in Italy which can accept Italian players only.
The intent is to prevent other sites, based in foreign countries, from infiltrating the Italian market. While a law passed in March, 2010, permits foreign operators to solicit players from Italy, provided they first obtain a domestic license, the matter is not settled. Italian online gaming interests have again challenged the legality of cross-border gambling operators based in other EU member states, such as Malta, going after Italian customers. However, in a September, 2013 preliminary ruling, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) declared that any such restrictions would be a violation of EU law. The Court upheld the right of other EU states to allow Italian gamblers to play.
Meanwhile, the Italian Government is focusing its attention on another concern, the growing number of people in the country who have become addicted to physical and online gambling. The Government’s proposed course of action, a one year complete moratorium on online gambling, if implemented, would not only put the country’s gaming industry on its knees, but have a profound effect on the Italian economy. A more detailed discussion of this topic can be found in the last section of this report, Problem Gambling in Italy.
Gambling in Italy Today
Today the casino and online gambling industry in Italy is a booming business exceeding EUR 80 billion a year. Every fiscal indicator from 2015 to 2017 is showing a substantial increase in revenue.
Commercial bingo continues to be a huge enterprise in Italy and should that come as a surprise considering that it is a long held belief that bingo originated in Italy. National Lotteries have been in existence since 1932 and have terminals throughout all of Italy. Lottomatica is considered to be one of the biggest lottery operations in the world. Online operations are continuing to grow and currently the Italian government is finding ways to both capitalize on the potential revenue at the same time ensuring that operations are above board and are meeting the requirements of the AAMS. But, along with all of the aforementioned varieties of gambling opportunities is Italian race wagering. Currently there are close to 350 off-track betting concessions with the possibility of continued growth.
Italian gamblers are no different than most people who gamble. They typically are betting far more than they can afford. The high crime rate in Italy can be attributed in part to the many gamblers turning to crime in order to pay off their gambling debts and have more money to gamble.
According to the GBGC, with the proliferation of slot machines, the problem can only be expected to get worse. With slot machines now legal, not only in land-based casinos, but in arcades everywhere and online, too, slots have become Italians’ gambling game of choice. Currently, there are more than 380,000 slot machines distributed throughout the country. Even pharmacies have them.
No matter how the data is added up, the reality is that there is an immense amount of betting and online gambling that is taking place in Italy. Like many of its European neighbors, gambling is a huge part of the fabric of daily life for the Italians.
The data consistently show more revenue being generated by online poker before it became legal than afterwards. Analysts suggest that a combination of factors could be contributing to this scenario. One problem is the high taxes that the licensed operators are required to pay the Italian government, the cost of which is passed on down to the players. A second problem is that players are restricted to Italian citizens. This means fewer games and fewer players. Talks are underway with Spanish and French operators to consider the possibility of establishing a joint player pool in order to increase liquidity.
At the World Gaming Executive Summit in Barcelona, attorney Quirino Mancini told attendees that in the crowded market, we could expect consolidation and integration, as only a few major operators, like PokerStars, 888, and Lottomatica, are raking in the lion’s share of the profits. But even so, the regulated online market represents only 10% of Italy’s total gaming revenue, as compared to 20% for the UK online gaming market.
Illegal gambling, both online and offline, continues to be a big concern. One response to this was to limit Italians ability to play with poker pools outside of Italy’s borders. As a result online poker has declined immensely over the past couple of years at the same time the online casino game market has climbed. To date, the AAMS has also blacklisted over 4,500 unregulated online gambling sites, adding about 50 new names to the list every month. According to the AAMS, the sites are blocked because they violate Italy’s Finance Act requiring all online gambling sites to receive an Italian license before they can offer online betting to Italians. However, new unauthorized sites keep popping up, and many Italian players use them.
There are also reports alleging Mafia activity in the booming land-based slot parlor business. Presumably, it is in the form of either using other companies as a front to obtain licenses and then falsifying records for tax purposes, or opening up their own clandestine backroom operations. According to the head of Italy’s Anti-Mafia Commission, while the Government is profiting from the Italian gambling explosion, the Italian Mafia is profiting more.
Problem Gambling in Italy
Italy is a small country, with just 2% of the world’s population, yet it accounts for almost a quarter of the total global gaming market. According to the association Libera, more than 800,000 Italians have a serious gambling problem. In addition, Italy now has the largest per capita gambling spending in Europe and the third largest in the world, exceeded only by Singapore and Australia.
Many of the people in Italy with a gambling problem, rather than being wealthy, are either retirees, who are trying to live off their pensions, or young people who are unemployed. Slots, video poker, and the lottery all feed off their dependency as they desperately hope to win enough money to pay their monthly bills and debts.
Support groups provide another avenue of help. One group, SERT, is also reaching out to the families of addicted gamblers, trying to educate them on how not to be enablers.
The Italian government believed that if more online gambling sites were legalized that it would begin to put a major dent into the corruption that emanates from the Mafia. However as the economic crisis has hit Italy, the government in order to obtain more revenue that taxation on gambling provides it grew somewhat lax and as a result the organized crime rings moved in to feast on the opportunities. Recently in response, 5-Star-Movement (M5S) proposed a complete ban on gambling, both in brick and mortar establishments and online, on the grounds that it contributes to organized crime and creates all kinds of social problems.
Despite a concern that organized crime could infiltrate a legalized system, there are those who believe that to put a prohibition, or limit on legalized gambling would only give fuel to smouldering embers of corruption. Social Psychologist Simone Feder founder of the Not So Slot movement is deeply concerned with the impact that excessive slot machines have on the Italian population in particular the poor who in some cases spend the meager wages that they have in the hopes of increasing up their lot quickly. He believes that of the 15 million gamblers throughout Italy 800,000 are actually classified as addicts.
Although Italy is one of the smallest countries in the world, making up less than 2% of the world’s total population it is actually has one of the highest per capita gambler ratios in the world with a revenue to show for it.