Italian lockdown leaves gaming sector facing uncertain times
The Italian government’s decision to effectively put the country into lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) looks set to have a major impact on Italy’s retail gambling sector, industry observers have noted, though the extent is yet to be determined.
The measures brought into effect yesterday (10 March) will see betting shops, arcades and bingo halls across the country closed until 3 April, alongside cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs.
There is also a moratorium on public events such as weddings and funerals, and more pertinently for the gambling industry, sporting events including the country’s top football division Serie A. The government is also advising citizens to avoid all but essential travel.
However, this does not mean a total shut-down of the retail gambling industry, according to Alessio Crisantemi of Gioconews.it. He pointed out that amusement with prizes (AWP) machines installed in venues such as bars, tobacconists, restaurants and hotels are still active, provided operators can ensure a distance of at least one metre between patrons. This is also the case for betting kiosks found in tobacconists.
These venues will be subject to stricter opening hours, between 6AM and 6PM.
However, Crisantemi added, there were “interpretative doubts” as as to whether venues such as bars, tobacconists or restaurants that host separate rooms for gaming devices can remain open.
While they are technically not considered ‘gaming halls’, as they offer gambling within a different type of establishment, they could be classed as such and therefore face closure under the lockdown decree.
Private clubs, in which gambling is ancillary to the main activities, may remain open, but again there is uncertainty over whether they should be closed to avoid public gathering that could result in transmission of the virus, he added.
The impact on the country’s igaming market is yet to be seen, though several businesses have already spoken out to say it was likely to be used to offset a lack of retail revenue.
When it announced the shut-down of its Snaitech betting shop estate earlier today, Playtech said that it hoped the brand’s online operation would at least mitigate in part the retail closures.
iGaming software supplier Gan, meanwhile, released an update earlier today revealing that it had processed in excess of 306m online bets in Italy for the year to date. This represents an 8.4% year-on-year rise from the same period in 2019.
After certain restrictions to halt the spread of the virus were implemented from 23 February, it had seen a 13.9% rise in bets processed via its platform over the fortnight that followed, with these trends continuing into March.
Despite the supplier’s exposure to the Italian market, investor confidence does not appear to have been badly hit, with its shares trading up 6.61% at 141.79 pence per share in London this morning (10 March).
On the other hand, Newgioco, the supplier that runs around 2,010 internet cafes offering sports betting in the country, saw its share price close down 18.52% at USD$2.20 per share in New York on 9 March. It is yet to comment on the Italian shut-down.
Earlier in March, industry analsyts H2 Gambling Capital estimated that a worst case scenario could lead to an 8% year-on-year decline in global gambling revenue in 2020. Based on the shut-down of activity in China and its autonomous regions, coupled with quarantine protocols in the likes of Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea, the industry is facing a decline of at least 1% for the year, or 4.8% below H2's original 2020 forecast of $475bn.
This, however, could worsen, as it does not include downgrades to H2's revenue forecasts for other markets.