While online poker in Italy has been declining for years, the industry is not as disastrous for online gaming operators as many may imagine, as both online casino and sports wagering verticals are on the rise.
To help combat declining online poker revenues the country is considering new legislation to reduce taxes and allow shared liquidity with other European countries. It is believed that both measures could reign in some of the grey market activity while simultaneously serving as a win-win-win for operators, players, and the country.
PokerNews spoke with DLA Piper gaming attorney Giulio Coraggio about the state of affairs for online poker and gaming in Italy. We asked Coraggio about why online poker was declining and whether 2015 is meeting the country's expectations.
The success of Spin and Go's tournaments show that innovation is the key
"Apparently casino has 'eaten' tournament and cash poker leaving poker players with empty pockets," Coraggio shared. "The Italian online poker market has been paying the global crisis of the whole poker market. However, the launch of the Spin & Go games by Italy's market leader, PokerStars, created more interest around the game. This shows that innovation is the key for the success in any type of game. And this is true also for more "traditional" games like poker. The challenge will be not only in identifying innovative poker products but also on the channels of distribution of products with wearable technologies becoming an interesting field for fast poker games."
When asked about how the outlook is for the future across the various verticals of online poker, casino, and sports wagering, Coraggio also pointed out that things were looking great for the country.
"The outlook of the market is quite good," Coraggio proclaimed. "The gross gaming revenues (GGR) of online casino and sports betting respectively grew of 32% and 22% compared to the same period of last year, and the turnover of sports betting doubled compared to last year. This growth was led by the entrance of new operators in the market such as Bet365 and more flexible sports betting regulations that are now allowing a more attractive product offering."
While the country's Internet gaming sector continues to grow, the Italian regulator is not sitting tight when there is potential money being left on the table due to declining online poker revenues. Coraggio explained a bit about the proposed amendments to the Internet gaming laws, what they are, if (or when) they are expected to pass, and what the expected impact might be.
Coraggio shared that changes were likely to happen sooner rather than later, and that they are centered around a proposed lower tax rate.
"The main change will be the new taxation for tournament poker and sports betting," he stated. "As a consequence of such change, the 20% GGR tax will be applied across all the main online gaming products which might considerably boost the sector allowing higher prizes which might further reduce the black market. The timing of such change is still uncertain, but I am confident that it will happen with effect from January of next year at the latest."
The approval of live poker regulations has been delayed for several years so far, but Italians are unpredictable!
In addition to the proposed changes, it is believed that there could be other things Italy can do to help boost online poker. Coraggio pointed out that online poker is hampered by the lack of popularity in live poker due to regulations, and that legislators should approve live poker regulations to help grow the market.
"My point of view is that the approval of live poker regulations would considerably foster the growth of online poker," said Coraggio. "Indeed, poker was very successful in Italy at the time when it was initially launched since players wanted to replicate the results of famous poker players, and poker tournaments had a very large TV coverage. The launch of live poker with more opportunities to meet and challenge famous players might make poker popular again and recover it from the current crisis. The approval of live poker regulations has been delayed for several years so far, but Italians are unpredictable!"