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Revealed: How Italian bookies survived tough year

Just like any other business, betting firms underwent unprecedented challenges that were brought about by the outbreak of Covid-19 

A triple whammy has hammered the Italian sector if that saying applies to a national market. 

First, there was a prohibition on all gambling-related marketing, followed by the pandemic’s impact and attendant lockdowns, and lastly, to add insult to injury, a tax hike while the virus was still raging. However, the internet sector has shown remarkable resiliency, and recent M&A activity in the industry suggests that future prospects are bright, at least at the top of the tree.

It may seem strange that when talking about the status of the Italian internet market in the previous year, the lines of a long-dead popular British legend spring to mind. Nonetheless, some of the lines delivered by Gus Elen, a cockney singer and comic, seems to be appropriate.

Similarly, the Italian gaming industry would argue it’d be doing OK if it weren’t for the virus (Covid-19), its accompanying lockdowns, restrictions on gambling marketing, and recently increased taxes. Recent data backs up this assertion. Per Ficom Leisure, revenue from all internet sectors increased about 95% in February in comparison to the same period in the previous year, before the initial lockout.

The gross gaming revenue (GGR) for February was just €351 million, shy of the previous high of €359 million established in December. Almost all non-AAMS casinos and sports betting sites listed at Siti Scommesse Non-AAMS remained up upwards of 160 per cent year-on-year in March, and online casinos had their second-highest sum since the regulation began.

This backs the overall optimistic image for online or virtual gaming and, since sports resumed in June of the previous year, online sports income. “Due to the result of the lockdowns, a bulk of additional players have registered online accounts,” explains Senior partner at Ficom Leisure in Rome, Christian Tirabassi. 

‘We expect this trend will continue since many gamers have (grown acclimated to) wagering and gambling on the internet and on smartphones.”

2020 Changed Everything

According to Fabio Schiavolin, CEO of Snaitech, 2020 demonstrated clearly the consumer appeal of online gaming, with Snaitech’s sales jumping 58 per cent over the last year, which was considered a record-breaking year.

He adds that “2020 data demonstrated a clear indication of the digitalization of demand for all goods and services, supported by the 2020 retail lockdown with consumers enjoying the digital offer with greater confidence.”

Betting shop managers at Snaitech are among the converts. “We have been concentrating a lot on acquiring online gamers via our points of sale for a long time now, sharing the income with the shop managers and establishing a true omnichannel perspective of the customers,” Schiavolin explains.

“Even the most hesitant retailers have realized the significance of capitalizing on business digitalization, which has been their sole source of income in the months following the pandemic. We have been able to boost compensation to aid the retail network to deal with the problem and recover stronger when the opening is permitted, as we always concentrate on partnerships.”

The Covid-19 outbreak and AAMS influence on Italian football clubs were one of the most visible challenges the gaming industry has faced in the last 12 months. Land-based gambling and gaming, in particular, were subjected to lengthy unavoidable closures and, as of the moment of writing this content, had yet to see any signs of returning. 

“Online sales have indeed been greater over the last 12 months, but they’ve not been sufficient to reimburse for the sector losses caused by shop closures,” Alexander Martin, CEO of SKS365 explains.

However, the omnichannel endeavour was critical to the Italian business a long time before the new coronavirus came into the country in early 2020.

The Italian gambling industries were dealt a major hit when the Dignity Decree was passed in 2019, and practically all casino sales promotion was banned. However, the gambling businesses also had a role to play in the abrupt low level of awareness.

Lacking the formerly accessible assortment of advertising stimuli, the necessity to discover ways to push clients online prompted a more determined effort to use the retail presence as a lead generation tool. As a result, even when the latest marketing limits took effect in Italy, there was a seemingly counterintuitive increase in GGR.

The restriction on betting-related promotion appears to have had the effect of consolidating market share amongst those half-dozen major companies. Martin points out that SKS365 has become one of the big six sports betting operators holding a market share of over 10%, accounting for approximately three-quarters of total GGR.

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