[toc]The Italian online gambling regulatory authority is likely to be open to the further opening up of the esports market after it gave the go-ahead for SNAI to offer the product alongside its traditional sports betting offering this May.
‘No bookmaker can afford to ignore it’
Speaking in the wake of the SNAI/Sportradar launch, Fabio Schiavolin, chief executive of SNAI Cogetech, said the move to offer esports was a matter of responding to demographic changes in the betting business.
“Betting on esports for sure will play a key role in the future of sports betting, and no bookmaker can afford to ignore it,” he added.
Giulio Coraggio, partner at the law firm DLA Piper, said the Italian gambling regulator the Agency for State Monopolies was effectively also acknowledging the changing landscape.
“The launch of esports betting was just a question of time, but I expect that the regulator will be open in the future to expanding the offering of esports betting and offering other types of betting markets provided that the regulatory restrictions are met,” he said.
Why now for Italy and esports betting?
Italy moved last year to junk the previous system of allowing betting on events that comprised the official ‘Palinsesto officiale.’ Commentators agreed that the licensing of esports also represented a further attempt by the Italian authorities to encourage the legal offering of a product which would otherwise migrate to offshore-licensed operators.
Isabel Davies, legal and business analyst at Purewal & Partners in London, said the Italian regulator’s move to formalize the regulation of esports betting alongside more traditional sports should be applauded.
“We want regulators to see the potential in esports and encourage the growth in the space,” he said. “If regulation is done in partnership and in consultation with the industry, where it meets the needs of the industry, then it could be very positive. This market has grown considerably already without outside regulation, which is both a challenge and an opportunity.”
Lorenzo Caci, director of sales at Sportradar, agreed that the regulation of esports was bringing under the regulatory umbrella an activity which was already seeing huge growth.
“We expected betting on esports to be a steady growth proposition when we began last year but it’s already seeing incredible growth trajectories,” he said. “It is just such a dynamic addition to any operator’s proposition that opens up whole new customer groups. We are really excited with it today in the full recognition that there is still so much that we and our clients can develop and offer in the coming weeks, months and years.”
What Italian regulators are focused on
However, there are still aspects of esports that the Italian authorities are likely to play very close attention to, particularly with regard to the nature of the underlying esport content.
“There are general limitations concerning the events on which bets may be placed, whereby notably subject matter of the bets within the customized program must not include any sort of violent, indecent or discriminating offer,” says Valerie Paeno, an attorney-at-law in Rome and a member of the European Gambling Lawyers and Advisors (EGLA) organization.
Coraggio suggested the regulator has “considered such restrictions in assessing what type of esports markets could be offered”.
What the Italian regulation hasn’t yet addressed is the slightly more contentious issue of skin betting. The UK Gambling Commission said earlier this year that it now considered skin betting to be just like any other form of gambling and therefore subject to the same regulations.
Coraggio suggested that skin betting would fall under the banner of skill games – which is dealt with separately by the Italian gambling statutes – but added that no operator had yet moved to offer this type of betting.
Noting that the UK had at least made steps in the direction of answering some of the questions thrown up by skin betting, Davies said the form remained a grey area and that her firm’s experience was that the regulators were only now “starting to get to grips with it.”