Italian Elections: The Gambling Industry Outlook By Luke Haward, CDC Gaming Reports March 15, 2018 at 2:00 am Gambling has been, at the very least, a simmering topic of relative discontent in Italy for some time now, and it’s only going to get hotter and harder to handle in the coming months. As the second largest European gambling market after the United Kingdom, Italy faces some quite similar challenges. There might not be quite so much noise as there is in the UK, in terms of the national press reporting on problems in the gambling industry, but locally there’s significant pushback against the proliferation of gambling devices in various localities, and tension brewing over the 10,000 new betting points which are being proposed for governmental approval. The government also tendered 120 new online gaming licenses recently, with a week to go before the application deadline closes. It’s certainly a gambling economy that continues to grow, especially in the online sector. Moreover, this growth, measured as 25% year-on-year for 2016, appears to still be accelerating. Just as in the UK, however, there are issues in the Italian gaming industry surrounding the prevalence of gambling advertising, a lack of treatment of problem gambling, gambling adverts and games designed to appeal to children (and children having ready access to gambling terminals) and, of course, corruption and illegal activities, such as money laundering. There is action against this stuff, even cross-border action, so the jurisprudence system along with policing is working to combat such activities. Even today, just hours ago, the news broke that a number of gambling operators have surrendered their Maltese gaming licenses due to their involvement in an ongoing wave of investigations into possible Mafia and organized crime connections, according to the Times of Malta. Specifically, the Maltese Gaming Authority is investigating five operators regarding these links, two of whom have reportedly already had their licenses revoked by the MGA after being mentioned in an Italian anti-Mafia police probe. Three more companies were reported by the Times of Malta as having voluntarily surrendered their licenses after hearing of their mention in the probe, which is looking into possible money laundering activities going on in Malta on behalf of criminal organizations from Italy. The MGA have refused to name names, stating that “Enforcement action may only be taken if regulatory breaches are identified… We are bound by law not to disclose sensitive information about our licensees…”. The same paper has reported on other related issues in the past, such as money laundering connected to horse-racing activities. There have also been a number of match fixing scandals across the Boot. More than anything, however, what the public fears in many regions is simply the exploitation of the poor and the ongoing creation of an even larger number of problem gamblers through gaming machines’ sheer availability. Various local legislatures have pushed back, mandating that gambling venues be located a set distance from schools and other public areas, although some of these new gambling regulations are reported locally as not having been upheld by local authorities. The battleground on gambling proliferation is being staged across the nation, with these 10,000 new betting points apparently to be added while a promise has been made to reduce Italy’s slot machines quotient from its current 400,000 down to 265,000, a pants-tearing backstep of some 34% and anathema to any machine operators in the land. This pledge of reduction was made in late 2016 by then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who promised to reduce machines, particularly in bars, cafes and shops. There’s a general feeling in Italy of having turned a blind eye to some of the social ills caused by gambling’s proliferation, which is slowly turning around as the industry starts to realise it faces significant challenges to its future. The worse the public feels about gambling, the worse that is for the firms in the industry, both big and small. A 2015 report suggested up to 1.3 million problem gamblers might exist across Italy, but also stated that only approximately 12,000 were then receiving treatment. With the Italian elections leaving uncertainty about what kind of coalition might be formed, or whether there might even be a call for fresh elections, one thing is very clear: the public has voted for alternative parties, for the anti-establishment, and many an establishment plan may well get shaken up a bit. Berlusconi’s intentions for revamping many of the country’s old casinos, such as Taormina, could very plausibly go by the wayside, despite there being plans already in place. Nobody is yet sure what will happen there or in similar endeavors. The Five Star Movement are of course the biggest winners in this recent election, splashing their yellow all over the map and capturing a massive 32.22% of the vote, even under the first-past-the-post system that they themselves have vociferously decried as unfair. These guys have been called both populist and anti-establishment; above all, they’re known for their environmental focus. They frequently present themselves as champions of the poor, and in those terms, gambling is a serious social issue for them. But they also badly need income from the sector to fund their budgets, so, as usual for politicians, they are in a tough spot in navigating their relationships with the industry. With the Five Star Movement expected to be a major player in the next Italian government, what’s the outlook for the gambling industry? One fast answer is nobody knows. Not yet, anyway. But we can look at in it at least these two ways. One is that the election pledge from the FSM contained a citizens’ income plan to give Italians below the poverty line up to €780 a month in so-called ‘basic income,’ and planned to cover the projected €17 billion cost of this plan from a number of income sources, including the gambling industry. So they’re certainly prepared to take advantage of the income from gambling activities. As such, they’ll need to negotiate and work with the existing industry. They’ll certainly have a hand in any oversight and approval of the new betting industry provisions being prepared at the current time by the Ministry for the Economy. Another angle on the FSM’s attitude to gambling comes from the party’s founder himself, Beppe Grillo, who burst onto the political scene in 2009, brought the party to its first popular success in 2013, and then stepped aside from the FSM in late January, literally weeks before the election. Back in 2015, Grillo wrote in his personal blog that the government was “dominated by the gambling lobby,” and called for an “absolute” ban on gambling advertisements, similar to what’s been seen with tobacco ads. The party has been hailed for shaking up the establishment, and Grillo in particular has been a famous and vociferous critic of corruption in government, so it should be expected that the gambling industry might face a good amount of vibration, if not a full shakedown, in the wake of the FSM’s continued rise to political prominence. The times, they are changing, in Italy’s current political landscape. How this ultimately plays out for the gambling industry is far from certain.