Betting in Italy

Italy’s love affair with gambling dates back to 300 BC, when Roman legions played a dice and board game called “Duodecim Scriptorum,” the forefather of Backgammon. In 1638, Venice became the site of the world’s first government-sanctioned casino, “The Ridotto,” and during the Renaissance, lotteries were all the rage, spreading from here throughout Europe.

Today, Italians may gamble legally on all sports except of dog racing, which was made illegal in 2002. The country is home to no fewer than seven horseracing facilities called “Ippodromo,” reminiscent of the ancient Hippodrome chariot race tracks of the old Roman Empire. Also located around the country are nine casinos, notably three in Venice, plus others in Bologna, Campione de’Italia, Merano, Milan, Saint Vincent and San Remo. There are none, however, in Rome.

By 2006, horseracing and sports betting accounted for roughly 14% of the Italian gambling market, estimated to be worth some €39 billion per annum. In that particular year, the nation’s regulatory authority, Amministrazione Autonoma Monopoli di Stato (AAMS), took action to open up the country’s betting market even further by initiating a tender process for the issuance of a wide range of new betting licenses.

The vast majority of these licenses went to Italian bookmakers, with Snai gaining authorisation for 5,104 betting outlets and taking a 37% share. Matchpoint obtained a 28.3% share with 3,899 betting shops and Lottomatica was allotted 11.9% with 1,644 locations. Apart from stand-alone betting shops, bet centres have been set up in cafés and coffee shops, at newsstands, and, of course, at the tracks.

U.K. interests were also represented in the licensing expansion, notably by Ladbrokes, Eurobet, William Hill and Leisure & Gaming. Together, they assumed a 4.7% share of the licenses for 647 premises, which cover dedicated horseracing betting centres, dedicated sports betting centres and non-dedicated sports betting points.

Perhaps of even great impact on the market has been the proliferation of Italian-domiciled sports betting web sites, beginning in 2007. That when the Decree on Liberalization (Article 38) made all online gambling legal in Italy.

Betfair and Sportingbet were among the first applicants authorized to open online sportsbooks using the dot-IT suffix. William Hill PLC in association with its joint venture partner Codere SA (Codere) was awarded remote licenses relating to horseracing and sports betting. Meanwhile, Gala Coral and Ladbrokes also took the opportunity to establish Italian versions of their virtual bookmaking operations.

Today, CasinoCity estimates that some 347 English-language sports betting sites accept play from Italy, supplemented by another 169 sites that are offered exclusively in the Italian language. The latter group includes those operated by Unibet, Bet365, Party Bets, Gamebookers and in addition to the sites of the aforementioned bookmakers.

Recently, the Italian government has attempted to channel all online betting to the dot-IT sites, as a means of keeping revenues inside the country. One step taken in this regard has been blocking of Internet sportsbooks located offshore, an action that contravenes EU laws and is being fought in the courts. In any event, the blockade has been largely unsuccessful in keeping Italian bettors from reaching competitive bookmakers online.

The Euro is the primary currency used at Italy-facing sportsbooks. Visa credit for Italian cardholders is accepted by some 2,135 gaming web sites, of which 610 offer Italian language support. MasterCard has 2,027 affiliated venues, with 573 offering support in Italian. Most eWallets, such as NETeller and Moneybookers, also welcome transactions from customers based in Italy.

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