Stefano Sbordoni, Studio Legale Sbordoni and Partners
Ever since the pandemic began turning our lives upside down, causing considerable damage to the economy during the lockdowns, we have often been witness to passionate protests by workers from the public gambling sector. They stem from the unfair ideological discrimination suffered by this industry over the last few years and which is now also being felt more acutely by employees and operators in this sector. Unfortunately, the consequences of these foolish policies are rather more serious than might appear at first glance. This is because the gambling sector in Italy is based on “a set of regulations rooted in extremely well articulated legislation touching on aspects relating to taxation, law and order and other strictly administrative matters, aimed among other things at ensuring the control of cash flows entering the legal gambling circuit by putting in place tools capable of tracking payments”, and the negative effects of shutting down this sector can be traced to public finances (shortfalls in tax revenues), socio-economic aspects (high levels of job insecurity in the sector) and law and order (the spread of illegal gambling).
This last aspect is the reason why institutional players (courts, police and the Customs and Monopolies Agency (ADM)) are united in acknowledging that the closure of (or reduction in) legal gambling activities has led to an increase in illegal gambling, associated in almost all cases with organised crime: people have continued to gamble even after the gambling halls closed their doors by turning to illegal gambling.
A recent study (by Agimeg), comparing the periods 2019 and 2020 (the year in which gambling halls were closed for most of the year), based on operations carried out by the Italian Finance Police, the Carabinieri, the Police, the District Antimafia Pool and the ADM clearly showed that the year just ended marked a record in terms of arrests and criminal complaints related to illegal gambling.
The document records all the activities carried out by police forces against illegal gambling activities. This phenomenon has experienced a rapid rise following the closure of gambling halls, betting shops and bingo halls. There have been 145 investigations during the 416 days examined, virtually from the first lockdown until the present day. An illegal gambling hall is discovered almost every two to three days. Over 1,000 people have been charged. A huge number, beyond dispute, and which gives an idea of how penalising legal gambling has allowed spaces and resources to be snatched up by illegal gambling managed by organised criminals, with dangerous and onerous social costs and consequences in terms of public security. Just to recap, starting from the first lockdown, they have been closed for over 270 days.
All of this once again brings up the question of the need to reorganise the sector.
In the debate that must necessarily ensue to reorganise matters relating to public gambling and gaming (see “Note updating the economy and finances document 2020”, page 19, in which the government, wrapping up the budgetary measures for 2021-2023 and among the “attachments” to the measures, inserted the “Draft law reorganising the gambling and gaming sector”), one of the matters that must be examined is the organisation of a sector where gambling and gaming is a privilege exercised exclusively by the state.
A decision should be taken as to whether the current “concessionary” system as it is known should be confirmed and the question of whether any improvements are required should be examined.
The two current methods for managing gambling and gaming services by the state are direct management and indirect management.
”Direct management” is the model currently employed for lottery games and for deferred lotteries.
“Indirect management”, the system already used for national totaliser-based numbers games (Superenalotto) and instant lotteries, is widely used for sports and horse betting, bingo, gambling via entertainment devices and remote gambling.
The concession is granted by selecting one or more private operators responsible for managing a specific type of game instead of the state for a limited period and with proper supervision by the licensing authority.
This type of contract is known as a contract by public tender.
During the term of the concession, the licensing state continues to exercise powers of control, supervision and administration over concessionaires and in relation to economic and technical aspects and taxation.
In our view, the concessionary model is undoubtedly the one capable of ensuring more efficiency and effectiveness, both operational and when it comes to controlling the boundaries of the gambling sector and its operators. Nevertheless it requires modifications and additional legislative provisions rendering it more accessible for the industry and providing more protections for the state, the licensing body, and for citizens alike. This should constitute the substance of the scheduled reforms, which we hope will take shape as quickly as possible.