Challenging Italy's I-Gaming Policy

10 May 2006

The Italian Authority on State Monopolies (AAMS) has demanded that Italian Internet service providers prevent their customers from accessing betting Web sites, and the ISPs are fighting back.

The State Monopolies Authority, which was set up in 1928 by the Italian state to ensure the centralized management of activities relating to the manufacture and distribution of salt and tobacco, has since 1998 had authority over the gaming sector via their implemented IT systems. This covers controlling and managing gaming, guaranteeing security, promoting transparency and providing solutions to fight illegal betting and gaming. The authority oversees the national pari-mutuel system for horse and sports betting, the national pari-mutuel system for football pools ("Totocalcio and Totogol"), control systems for bingo and a control system for games machines.

Aside from the opinion that foreign Internet gambling operators are illegal, Sogei, an institutional partner of the Tax Administration, has cited these operators for not paying taxes.

The result has been the blocking of all Web sites that appear to be gambling services targeting Italy.

Fighting these restrictions on behalf of the ISPs is Assoprovider (the Association of Internet Service Providers). With almost 200 members in the small to medium sized ISP sector), Assoprovider is the largest organization of its kind in Italy and it has answered AAMS by appealing to TAR (the Regional Administrative Court).

The Operators' Front

One of the hardest hit organizations in all this is Malta's Lotteries and Gaming Authority (LGA), a public regulatory body that is responsible for the governance of all forms of gaming in Malta. LGA-licensed Astrabet has been identified by AAMS as a site that Italian ISPs must block. A court case dealing with the matter has progressed, and it appears that the ban of Astrabet has been lifted, but the parties involved are not allowed to talk about it.

"Unfortunately we cannot comment on the matter at the moment since the results that we have in hand were delivered by the ordinary court in Italy, which deals with private matters," LGA spokesman Mario Galea explained. "This means that the contents of the writ and the decision of the court are private to the parties involved, which in this case have been Astrabet and AAMS. There is another hearing later on this month and depending on that outcome, the injured party may proceed to the court of first instance, in which case it has to be made public. Until then we have to wait patiently."

I-gaming industry groups believe that the Italian state's demands should also be addressed at the EU level.

The (European) Commission is still contemplating about what to do," Torbjörn Ihre of the European Betting Association, explained. "The Italian government should have notified the Commission prior to introducing the present legislation with its restriction for accessing certain Web sites. So far, the Commission has only had exchange of information with the Italians but had not demanded any withdrawal of the (Internet gambling prohibition) legislation, and gambling operators are on an individual basis or in groups seeking injunction of the legislation. The only success so far that I know about is Astrabet. In this case, the Civil Tribunal of Rome has ordered the responsible authorities to make sure that the access to the Web site and the domain is no longer blocked."

Another bookmaker fighting the Italian state is Unibet, which has filed both civil and administrative lawsuits in response to the Italian policy. The group's deputy CEO, Didier Dewyn, is confident that Italy will not be able to uphold its restrictive online gambling policy.

"The blocking is expected not to last very long given the obvious neglect of European law," Dewyn said.

Rob van der Gaast has a background in sports journalism. He worked for over seven years as the head of sports for Dutch National Radio and has developed new concepts for the TV and the gambling industry. Now he operates from Istanbul as an independent gambling research analyst. He specializes in European gambling matters and in privatizations of gambling operators. Rob has contributed to IGN since Jul 09, 2001.