As the Italian government braces for a crack-down on arcade gambling machines, casino stakeholders are upbeat about the chances of an expanded regime in the country. Carlo Pagan, CEO of Casino Campione D’Italia, says versatility will be key for operators who capitalise on the expansion.
Amid growing anxiety around the clustering of arcade gaming machines, the face of Italy’s gambling industry looks set to change dramatically. Once seen as relatively benign, video lottery (VLT) machines have ballooned into a major presence in towns and cities and become a major concern for politicians.
But while regulators look to limit the number of gaming machines on the highstreet, it could also be high time to lift restrictions on casino numbers and ensure that regions in rural Italy receive the investment and rejuvenation they need.
The political mood has shifted in favour of casinos, with regulators discussing the possibility of raising the number of sites from four to twenty, and according to casino marketeer Carlo Pagan, CEO of Casino Campione D’Italia, public perception of the industry is also beginning to shift.
“The environment in Italy is changing, so now it could be the right moment to have a revolution for casinos,” he explained.
“I think that at present, the general population support the idea that it’s better to have more land-based casinos than slots in the arcades – that’s a concept that is supported by everybody.
“The biggest discussion we’ve had was based on not having slots in the streets, because we reached a number of 350,000 slots in the streets, in arcades. And so, with the government reducing that number by over 100,000, it’s the right moment to introduce the offer of more casinos,” he said.
Italy’s current land-based casino industry is limited to four state-run sites, strategically located in remote areas near the country’s northern border. The thinking behind this was to stem the flow of players crossing over to France or Croatia to gamble, while also removing the activity from busy metropolitan centres.
Now, as the number of casinos is set to be raised to twenty, municipalities are considering the potential for vital tourism and regeneration in other areas of the country.
“One of the issues being discussed is the fact that casinos can touristic development of Italy, mainly in the south,” said Pagan.
“So I believe that, even if nothing is already officially discussed, some touristic destinations like Taormina in Sicily could be one of the new locations for these casinos. But the key thing is that it’s increasing numbers for the sector.”
While a rollout of new casinos in Italy will be welcomed by stakeholders, the private sector doesn’t yet stand to benefit, although Pagan believes that privatisation could follow on the agenda.
“It certainly would be considered by the government,” he said. “I think in the near-future we will see a complete transformation of the market.”
For operators who may find their way into Italy’s land-based casino sector, the key to long-term success is likely to lie in versatility, not to mention co-operation with the booming online sector, says Pagan.
“I think casinos need to find cross-fertilization with other businesses, and I think that the growth of casinos needs to be linked with a diversification approach,” he said.
“All possibilities need to be explored in order to expand on the core demographic market for players. The age of the players is going up, meaning we are losing younger players.”
So far, it’s unclear how much state-owned institutions will be able to react to the challenges facing the market, including the difficulty of attracting and retaining younger audiences.
However, there have been signs of entrepreneurship in some of the country’s existing casinos, with some finding innovative ways to establish and market their online services to existing customers – while attempting to acquire new ones.
“The target age of land-based casino players is much higher than online, but some casinos have been adept at turning this into new opportunities,” Pagan explained.
“For Campione, for example, this new online market was an opportunity because the casino decided to specialise its offer of online live casinos through creating an area in the casino where online live casino could happen.”
He added: “There’s a strong sense of security for the customer when everything, the table, the dealer, and so on is visible to the casino customer. It’s not Campione’s core business, probably something like ten percent – but it shows that sometimes new verticals can be an opportunity for casinos.”