Italy’s Illegal Gambling Market Expands During COVID Lockdowns

A new report by Lottomatica-Censis Report shared by iGaming Business claims that illegal gambling in Italy rose by 50% during the COVID pandemic, an interesting trend given the lack of advertisement of gambling products in the country, and in part a validation of what regulated operators had warned about when the country decided to introduce blanket bans on legal advertising.

The report was submitted to the Italian Senate earlier this week and has put the value of illegal gambling during 2020 at $20.33 billion. In comparison, the share of the illegal gambling market in 2019 was only $13.55 billion. However, the report also expects illegal gambling in Italy to reach $22.59 billion by the end of 2021.

According to investigators, an illegal operator in the period between January 2020 and April 2021 was launching operations every three days, leading to a significant increase in the available gambling sites. Some 145 investigations took place in the country, and 1,000 people were reported to authorities, compared to only 493 people in 2019.

A Blanket Ban Won’t Do, the Public Thinks

While the gambling advertisement ban pushed through the Five-Star movement in 2018 promised to end the blight of gambling in the country, it may have backfired. Without the right to advertise, legal operators have had to sit aside and let underground operations show no scruples in whom they targeted or how often. Interestingly, Google was targeted over an illegal gambling ad in the country, but the search engine was eventually exempted.

A survey attached to the report discovered that 83.6% of all respondents claimed that the government should be held accountable for establishing a framework in which illegal gambling could not thrive. Protecting consumers from such underground operators was ultimately the government’s responsibility.

Interestingly, almost 60% of the Italian public was convinced that tougher sanctions on gambling would only further incentivize illegal operators. Only 28.9% said they supported the idea that an outright ban on gambling would help improve public health and reduce harm.

However, an outright ban is rarely the way to handle such things. The United States used to have a $150 billion offshore betting market that has been melting with the introduction of more legal gambling alternatives.

The Government Ought to Do More in Raising Awareness

According to the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into Illegal Gaming president and country senator Mauro Maria Marino, the country ought to address the issue it faces right now, specifically pertaining to the online gaming and illegal gambling sectors which have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, land-based revenue in the country fell by $39.53 billion, meaning that the increase in regulated online gambling had not been able to plug the gap. While a ban is in place for gambling advertisement, the report pointed out that the government had made no coordinated effort to address gambling addiction, for example.

According to 81.7% of all survey respondents, the government should be the ones making sure that there is better public awareness about gambling risks and related harm. Meanwhile, the country’s regulator managed to launch an app that allows people to be better informed about the risks of gambling.

The report was praised by Luiss Guido Carli University professor of criminal law Paola Severino who claimed that to regulate gambling effectively, and the industry would need to steal a share of those operations run by nefarious parties, such as Mafiosi. The Italian government has issued its ban – now the time to face the consequences of that decision has come.

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