Online Casino Revenues Soar in Italy, but Sports Betting Shrinks

30-second summary

  • Online casinos enjoy a record revenue high of €72m (£63.5m; $81.2m) for January, up 20.5% year on year
  • Poker is the biggest winner with revenues up 23.6%
  • Sports betting revenues fell by 17.2% since January 2018
  • Ban on gambling ads is boosting unlicensed operations

Online casinos in Italy have posted record revenues for January 2019. Sports betting did not share in the good results – its revenues fell 17.2% between January 2018 and January 2019.

The figures for January 2019 were published by Italy’s gambling regulator, the Agenzia della Dogane e dei Monopoli (ADM). The overall figures suggest that Italy’s ban on gambling advertisements is mainly benefiting unlicensed online casinos from outside the country.

Poker rules online

Online casinos recorded their highest revenues yet in January 2019 – €72m, up 20.5% since January 2018.

Poker was the big winner for online revenues at €8.9m (£7.85m; $10m), up 23.6% year on year. PokerStars is the biggest operator in this sector. It holds a 10.6% market share and runs 63.4% of all online tournaments. It was the only online poker company in Italy to see double-digit figures.

Next nearest rivals in the online poker sector were Lottomatica, with an 8.3% market share, and Sisal, whose market share was 7.6%.

Sports betting falls

According to the ADM, in January online sports betting revenue was €124.6m (£109.9m; $140.8m), down 17.2% year on year – revenues in January 20128 were €150.5m (£132.8m; $170m). The decline is not all bad news – the drop in December 2018 was 55%, so the tail-off is actually an improvement.

One reason cited for the drop is the winter hiatus for the Italian Serie A soccer league, which took place in January. Traditionally, the league takes its winter break in December. People placed fewer bets in January as a result, so February’s revenues should show an uptick.

Online betting revenue was €58.1m (£51.2m; $65.6m), down just 4.4%. The Italian arm of UK operator Bet365 remains the dominant revenue earner, with a market share of just under 18%. Its nearest competitors are SKS365, which has 12.8% of the market, and Snaitech at 11%.

Retail betting revenues also fell, down 26% to €66.5m (£58.7m; $75.1m).

Advert ban starts to bite

Italy’s recent blanket ban on gambling ads is beginning to affect Italian online operators, while unlicensed offshore gambling operators are benefiting.

In July last year, search giant Google agreed to comply with a governmental demand not to show results for gambling -related services in search results on its Italian site. The ban came into effect on January 1.

The net effect is that Italian gambling companies no longer appear in search results, but operators from outside Italy do. Agipro, an Italian gambling news website, reported earlier this month that searching “online casino” on Google Italy showed that the top three results were foreign gambling platforms. These online operators are reportedly based in Israel, Germany, and Curaçao, and they are not licensed to operate in Italy.

Loss of taxes

Market analysts in Italy predicted the ban on gambling ads would be to the detriment of local operators while boosting the black market. The government is losing millions in tax revenues and the January revenues posted above would undoubtedly be higher in an unskewed market.

Paolo di Feo, founder of Italian company Active Games, said: “The next step could be a nice casino scam, of the ‘deposit only’ type that last a few weeks. Online gaming is an intangible asset and without frontiers by nature. If a user voluntarily searches for words like online casinos, he must find legal operators.

“That kind of communication must always be allowed. Otherwise, players will end up on sites without mandatory rules and without taxes. Only today at least 100 people will have clicked on Curaçao casino. These are not marginal numbers.”