Poker in Italy is recognized as a game of skill and Italian love to show off how good (and lucky) they are at it. Unfortunately, live games are very scarce. Few casinos, a gambling anti-climate and the strong presence of illegal games run by the mafia don’t give too many options.
While Italy holds one of the strictest gambling legislation, foreign poker rooms at casinos like NonAAMS have become for many poker players the best path to climb among the stakes and make a name for themselves in the poker scene.
A Long Time Love for the Hustle
Italians love to gamble. Something to expect as Romans were fond to bet on everything, from private dice games at the Palazzo to the mayhem of races and arena battles at the coliseum. With the instauration of the Catholic Church not only the pagan gods got banished but also all forms of gambling as it was considered a sin (like almost all roman things). But the fear of hell wasn’t enough to stop Italians from seeking their favourite pastime and the fact that the Holy Father Pope John XII was an avid gambler and degenerate didn’t help to make people consider a more pious lifestyle.
Instead of fighting a lost battle, the estate decided to take advantage of the situation. In 1678 The Ridotto, the oldest operating casino in the world opened its doors allowing people to gamble during the carnival festivals. The introduction of card games and an early form of poker imported from France poque, hooked the action hungry audience while filling the estate coffers, becoming a huge success and putting back gambling to the spotlight. With the explosion of World War I conflict over the face of Europe, the American soldiers that were sent not only bring help but also their own versions of poker such as stud, Omaha and the all-time favourite Texas Hold’em.
Despite the popularity of gambling and poker in Italy, the most conservative sectors have it very restricted with several periods of bans and legalizations. Still, games didn’t stop from running thanks to criminal organizations that found in gambling another source of income. Until today the anti-mafia commission recognizes that illegal gambling profits exceed the ones collected by the estate. Considering that gambling taxes take almost half of gambling winnings, we can have an idea of how big these obscure operations are. The Advent of online gambling was the estate’s last chance to have a stronger grip on the situation.
The perfect storm for Italian online poker
While not all poker cash games are under the supervision of mafia pit bosses, finding one in a casino involves lots of travel and waiting lists since there are only 37 casinos operating in Italy, with few of them offering a space to play poker. This was basically the norm until 2004 when American accountant Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker. Through a series of online satellites, Moneymaker managed to earn a ticket to the prestigious tournament and beat the best players of its time, winning an astonishing million dollar prize. The feat sparked the online poker frenzy and Italians didn’t want to get behind.
But not only players multiplied. Online poker rooms spawned everywhere to be part of the action creating concern for the Italian government who despite its controls couldn’t regulate the situation. After several reforms in the gambling laws, in 2009 online poker was legitimized as it was recognized as a game of skill rather than chance, but the industry was heavily caged with several conditions to meet.
Italian Poker for Italians
The Italian market got fenced, meaning that only Italian citizens and residents could only play poker through a handful of operators licensed by the former Amministrazione autonoma dei Monopoli di Stato -Autonomous Administration of State Monopoly (AAMS) – now Agenzia de la Dogne an dei Monopoli – Gambling and Monopoly Agency. (ADM)-. Offshore poker players and operators aren’t allowed to enter the Italian area as they are quickly bounced by IP restrictions, and severe punishments for the latter, as the ADM has currently blacklisted more than 4500 offshore sites.
Reasons behind such an overprotective layer are that Italians despite representing nearly 2% of the worldwide population they build 20% of the gambling community. Problem gambling is another issue of concern with at least 8% of the country’s inhabitants are considered problem gamblers at risk and approximately 800,000 are chronic addicts. Finally, gambling taxes are a huge income for the state. Unfortunately for operators, the levy is regularly increased every time the state gets in the red figures, currently having a cut of approximately 40% of operators income and nearly 20% from players.
Online Poker Still Runs Hot
Compared to 2004 figures, around the globe online poker seems to lose its impulse. Stricter regulations, scams, and much harder games make online poker less appealing for players. But in Italy online games are far from running dry.
According to Statista, Pokerstars is the major operator hosting 45.72% of cash games while locals Lottomatica, Sisal, Snaitech and New Gioco as the remaining big 4 only compress 22.96% of the online games running.
While an online fenced market means fewer players to participate, online poker rooms allow betting on 6 simultaneous games (the once 24 table limit got reduced in 2018). Online tournaments offer several attractive tournaments with prizes in the hundreds of thousands of euros but also entries to the major live tournaments in the country like the Italian Poker Tour, and around the world, such as the European Poker Tour, and the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. When it comes to name dropping, Dario Sammartino, Mustapha Kanit, and Max Pescatori ‘The Italian Pirate’ are some of the top players in the country showing us that Italians are far from losing their passion.
With all the obstacles surrounding it, the popularity of poker is far from fading. Its recognition as a game of skill significantly improves its status under online legislation allowing players to access it and even earning a living through it as long its skills are up to a game that never ceases to marvel.
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