Italian outlook bleak without bricks-and-mortar presence

Expert says new market entrants will struggle following advertising ban


Operators that do not have an established land-based presence in Italy are likely to endure a brutal impact as a result of the newly introduced legislation in the country banning gambling advertising, according to Ficom Leisure senior partner Christian Tirabassi.

Speaking at iGB Live! in Amsterdam today (Thursday), Tirabassi said that there was a consensus amongst the legal community that Facebook will soon follow Google’s lead after the latter curtailed gambling-related advertising yesterday in the wake of savage new rules on gambling advertising brought in by Italy’s new coalition government.

The new so-called Dignity Decree, imposing a blanket ban, was introduced with immediate effect this week.

Although there are still nearly two months for the legislation to be amended by law-makers, Tirabassi said that hopes are virtually non-existent that the government will rein back on the new rules as they occupied a headline role in the administration’s manifesto from the outset.

“It would be extremely difficult to do from a political perspective,” he said.

Tirabassi added that although the new legislation requires clarification in a number of areas, lawyers are generally interpreting the new rules as outlawing any kind of gambling promotion – whether it is via advertising, sponsorship or an affiliate.

Ominously, Tirabassi added that the government has suggested that the clampdown is merely “just the beginning” for the gambling industry, spelling particular trouble for those who are yet to establish themselves in the market – including 80 companies that submitted applications for a licence to the ADM, Italy’s online betting and gaming regulator, back in March.

“If somebody has applied for a licence I would think twice and certainly see if there will be any changes over the next few weeks. This ban will allow the illegal offering to flourish,” Tirabassi said.

“Companies that do not have a land-based presence, allowing them to use that as a way to acquire online customers, will really struggle. The leaders are the ones who have a land-based presence.

“Basically, if they have a small customer base, they will have no way to grow.”

Tirabassi outlined how the government had intervened at a time of unprecedented growth for the industry in Italy.

The country’s online betting and gaming market surged from €725m (£648m/$840m) in revenue 2013 to €1.3bn in 2017. Tirabassi revealed that in the first six months of 2018, the market expanded by 30% year-on-year, with the two largest sectors – casino/slots and sports betting – generating €346m and €310m respectively.

Tirabassi said it was too early to tell what the impact would be on the industry’s bottom line but added that “legal” gross gaming revenue “would obviously be affected”.