Shortcut To Legal / Regulatory Developments In The Italian Gaming Sector

By Attorney at law Quirino Mancini (Sinsi Ceschinie Mancini & Partners, Law Offices)

1. New Licensing Requirements

In December 2007 Italy notified Brussels with the proposed new licensing requirements which are set to prove more EU-friendly than those currently in place (gaming servers may be located abroad provided within the EU territory, no need for the licensee company to be incorporated under Italian law, lower licence fees, etc). The so-called “standstill period” (during which the proposed rules cannot be implemented by the Italian authorities pending possible remarks and requests for clarification and/or amendments from the EC authorities) will officially lapse at the end of March yet it is still unknown at this time whether it will be possibly extended by one extra month.

2. Online Skillgames

Remote skill-gaming was legalised in July 2006 yet the gaming regulatory authority (AAMS) has not fully implemented the relevant rules hence this product cannot yet be launched. Unlike online poker and other ring games, online poker tournaments are covered by the remote skillgaming licence. AAMS is currently evaluating whether to open the game also to foreign-based players to allow for international pool liquidity, something which seems quite advisable to make a tournament hosted on an Italian online gaming platform commercially and financially palatable for both promoters and players. A final decision is expected shortly.

3. Online / Offline Sports Betting & Horseraces

The 15.000+ offline licences (betting shops and corner points) as well as the 33 pure online gaming licences awarded in December 2007 at the end of the licence tender called by AAMS are slowly becoming fully operational. There is however a big unfair competition issue raised by the biggest AAMS licensees related to the presence on the domestic market of many unlicensed betting agencies mainly belonging to UK-based Stanley Betting which have taken advantage of the ECJ rulings in re Gambelli and in re Placanica to since expand their nationwide affiliates network operating on a data transmission centre model. AAMS is expected to take some action also because a group of its licensees has already put it on official notice.

4. Online Bingo

This product has been fully regulated since May 2007 however AAMS has not yet authorised its launch due to a strong lobbying coupled with some judicial action brought by the national association of bingo hall owners who are very worried at the threat posed to their business by the prospective advent on the market of the big online bingo operators.

5. Online Instant Lotteries (Scratch Cards)

This is a very popular and profitable product covered by an exclusive licence held by Italy’s Lottomatica. Any AAMS licensee may however offer it on its own platform subject to
entering into sub-distribution arrangements with Lottomatica.

6. Slot Machines

The sector is undergoing a major modernisation process with all first-generation machines (better known in Italy as “comma 6”) being progressively withdrawn from the market and replaced with second-generation machines (so-called “comma 6a”). The latter are safer and stabler in terms of functioning as well as harder to be tampered with for tax evasion purposes. Notably no AAMS-approved slot machines can reproduce the rules of poker as videopoker devices are strictly forbidden in Italy.