CasinoBeats countrywatch: Spotlight on Italy

Arguably one of Europe’s most established territories for gaming, with plenty of potential for converting a wealth of land-based players to online, we caught up with some of Italy’s most popular suppliers to hear the latest on the market.

In the first of a two part Italian special, we’re kicking things off with a wealth of local insights from Arcangelo Lonoce, head of business development Europe at Habanero, Denis Koshel, technical account manager at Playson and Ed Muldoon, head of region Italy, Malta and Eastern Europe at Yggdrasil Gaming.

CasinoBeats: Having been live for close to 11 years, Italy is one of Europe’s most mature online jurisdictions – how would you sum up your focus there?

Arcangelo Lonoce, head of business development Europe at Habanero.

AL: Italy is a unique jurisdiction. It’s Europe’s second largest market, with a diverse tapestry of demographics that is constantly changing. More than a decade on from its inception, this dynamic territory is set to continue growing, particularly for the online sector.

We’ve been live in Italy for three years, but have completed a wealth of commercial deals in the jurisdiction since then. Having launched with the likes of Sisal, Lottomatica and Bet365 this year, as well as continuing to deliver for longstanding partners such as Eurobet and SKS365, we’re now among the country’s fastest-growing providers.

DK: Italy is a market where bureaucratic obstacles often stand in the way of innovation. Here at Playson, however, we don’t let regulatory hurdles stifle our creativity. Our team has worked tirelessly to continue improving our product offering in line with the latest technical and demographic changes.

Although our commitment to excellence can slow the development pipeline, we believe that premium quality products are always worth the time it takes to create them. We’re looking forward to continuing the roll-out of our acclaimed content in the Italian market and beyond, and we expect that our latest game releases will perform strongly among Italy-based players.

Ed Muldoon, head of region Italy, Malta and Eastern Europe at Yggdrasil Gaming.

EM: Yggdrasil initially entered the market to support our customers’ own expansion into the market, as we often do with our partners. However, Italy has since become a strategic focus for us. We have hired Italian speaking account managers and a head of region to drive the business forward.

We went live in the Italian market in 2017 and we continue to see great interest in our gaming content from both local players and licensees.

We are very pleased with the progress we have made signing new customers, with several high-profile agreements yet to be announced. At the end of 2020 we will be live with over 10 leading operators in the region.

CB: How would you profile the typical player? What kind of demographics are we dealing with?

AL: The most important thing to remember is that more than 90 per cent of Italian-based players are still land-based and retail. Such a large market, with so little digital penetration, is an exciting prospect for all of us in the online sector.

Being home to an emerging generation of tech-oriented players has laid the ground for an uptick in online activity. The territory’s outstanding potential for growth therefore makes it a strong investment opportunity, and not one to be missed.

DK: The typical Italian player is likely to be slightly older than their counterparts elsewhere in Western Europe, with an average age of around 33 – 40. Because of the country’s sociable culture and proud retail betting heritage, Italy’s transition to the online sector was historically slower than it has been in other areas of the continent.

This transition, however, has since been accelerated by the enforcement of one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, as well as the introduction of a rule requiring the use of government health cards with slot machines.

EM: Conversely, we do not really see a fundamental difference between Italian players and their counterparts in other regulated markets. Many seem to seek out entertaining and immersive content such as that developed by Yggdrasil and play it in similar patterns to what we see in other European regulated markets.

What type of games have you seen to have particular success there?

DK: Italy’s proud land-based heritage means that its players tend to enjoy classic slot games with roots in that sector. One of the country’s best performing games, for example, is called ‘Galline’ (meaning ‘chicken’), which comes from a certain land-based slot machine.

Although Italy’s historic land-based gambling culture means that some of its players prefer low RTPs, it remains the case that a great game is a great game no matter where you are. The fundamentals of the slot experience remain the same, regardless of geographic location.

AL: There has been a real variation. Drawing inspiration from the country’s best-loved card game, Scopa is a slot boasting widespread international appeal, but performs especially well in the Italian market.

Even though it was launched back in 2018, Egyptian Dreams’ retention rate among Italy-based players still makes for impressive reading, with the classic Wild Trucks also a top performer.

Packed with retro-themed fruit symbols and a 1980s style synthesiser soundtrack, Jump! has also resonated well with Italy’s deep routed land-based culture and remains a firm national favourite.

“The Italian market has shown good resilience to regulatory change”

EM: While we see a little less interest in jackpot-based games than you might ordinarily expect, this is replaced by a keen interest in games that include Yggdrasil’s new Splitz mechanics. Players are enjoying the excitement of the win potential offered in games featuring the mechanics such as Neon Rush and Temple Stacks.

That said, we still see our ever-present classics Vikings go Berserk and Valley of the Gods at the top of the performance sheets each month. It will be interesting to see how players respond to Valley of the Gods 2 which we are launching later this year.

CB: And when it comes to regulation – what do you advise other operators / suppliers bear in mind when getting ready to enter the market?

AL: In Italy, the regulatory burden falls almost entirely on the operator. Licences are expensive to obtain and adverts are banned. Add in the renewed scrutiny our industry has faced since the outbreak of coronavirus, and it’s clear that these rules will likely get stricter.

Providers, on the other hand, have more room to manoeuvre. That’s because the certification requirements they face are manageable, if time consuming and expensive, and the market continues to show an appetite for new, high-quality games. Operators look for partners who can deploy innovative product strategies that help them stay compliant, while still producing titles which are popular.

DK: Personally, I would counsel patience. The process in Italy usually takes longer than it would in other markets, mainly because of its complex certification procedures. The second piece of advice I would offer is to deepen your understanding of the country as much as possible, by visiting, learning the language and gaining an insight into the unique preferences of its players.

EM: The Italian market has shown good resilience to regulatory change, perhaps that’s just a reflection of the maturity of the market overall. There is a slightly different regulatory framework in effect in Italy which requires operator specific authorisations ahead of release. While this might slow down the release of new game in comparison to some other markets, it becomes business as usual when you have the right supporting processes in place.

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