In December of 2009, just two short months ago, Italy saw the launch of its first online bingo site. The country already plays host to hundreds of land-based bingo halls, and the game is very popular among certain demographics, so the internet version caught on immediately, and quickly grew in popularity. This week, however, the plug was pulled on the online games when it was discovered that the new internet bingo regulations do not comply with Italian gambling laws.
This means that all online bingo games in Italy are suspended for an indeterminate period of time. The suspension was ordered by the administrative court of the Lazio region, which found that the approval of the decrees regulating online bingo were not in compliance with the formalities of Italian law.
A similar situation plagued offline bingo in Italy back in October 2009. Several existing halls wanted to connect their players via a closed intranet, which would allow interaction between bingo players in different parts of the country. The Lazio administrative court slowed this endeavor down as well, citing the same reasons.
From here, only one of two things can save internet bingo in Italy. Either the Court of Appeals will overturn the decision of the administrative court and end the hiatus, or the Italian Gaming Authority will have to re-issue the decrees after obtaining the required approvals and reviews.
In the meantime, Italy’s online bingo market is left wide open, and local operators understandably are concerned. Playtech this week acquired the internet bingo company Virtue Fusion, and has already announced intentions to begin targeting the Italian and French markets. If Italian bingo operators are held up for a couple of months, foreign companies like Playtech will have plenty of time to launch their products in Italy in time for the “re-launch”. It’s now a race against time, and it’s too early to see who will come out ahead.