Italy's gambling hand

As the whole of Europe seem to be debating the legality of gambling, Italy will announce shortly the details of its new stance on gambling.

The Italian government will auction off 17,000 licences for betting shops, kiosks, casinos and online casinos and sportbooks.

The decision by Italy has led to a deluge of applications, with Betfair, William Hill and Ladbrokes one of the first to seize the opportunity and be granted licences. Gaming firms now see Europe as an ideal market following the U.S crackdown on online gambling, but Nilay Patel, corporate finance manager for William Hill, remains pragmatic over the new legislations.

"Essentially, this is a case of creating a new market or converting an illegal market into a legal market," said Patel. "We don't have the facts, figures and information on which to make sensible estimates of the potential size of the opportunity.

"Until we actually have a couple years of operating experience in these markets, we really don't know how they're going to develop," he added.

Some of the U.K’s largest operators already appear well placed to take advantage of the new laws across Europe. Gala Coral already operate an Italian-language site and a betting shop in Genoa, William Hill have entered into a venture with Spanish firm Codere and Ladbrokes completed a deal with Italian firm Pianeta Scommesse back in August, as well as buying three betting shops in Turin last month.

Many other countries, such as Greece, Ireland and the Czech Republic, will watch the effects of the law changes and will base their own decisions on its implications.

Overlooking all of this is the European Commission, who face the tough job of ensuring the changes in gambling laws, however flexible or stringent, do not restrict the promotion of competition. According to a ruling by the E.U’s highest courts, member states may place controls on private gambling operations, but they must be "non-discriminatory, proportionate and consistent". In the last few days Germany appears to have ignored this notion, putting in place new laws to help protect its state-run lottery.

Spain is also set to follow Italy, with the various Spanish regions able to set up their own regulations as they see required. In essence, Spain will allow gambling in regulated locations, including online casinos, and will grant licences for up to five years.

Editor, - 2006-12-18 12:22:29

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