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Could Berlusconi Hold The Key For Italian Gaming Industry?

The fallout from the Italian elections saw an unlikely coalition of extreme left and right proposing a platform for government. After their nomination for finance minister was spectacularly rejected by the country’s president, Sergio Mattarella last Sunday, the country has been plunged into a constitutional crisis, sending shockwaves through Italian business and wider European markets.

While uncertainty reigns for the time being in Italy, there are quiet celebrations in some sectors – not least the Italian gambling sector, which was set to be amongst the most heavily penalised by the new would-be administration.

The coalition was formed by the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement and the far right League – and it was the latter’s manifesto that had set its sights so firmly against the gambling sector. Amongst the provisions they had proposed were a ban on all forms of gambling advertising, and the total “elimination of gambling machines (slot machines, video lottery terminals).”

As we’ve seen recently with the UK government’s disastrous decision to reduce the maximum FOBT stake to just £2, risking tens of thousands of jobs in the process, knee-jerk political responses can quickly cripple perfectly legitimate industries – all in the name of a few cheap votes. So it was perhaps no surprise that gambling industry stakeholders have been celebrating the collapse of the coalition before it even got off the ground.

Now, with Giuseppe Conte’s administration-elect all but dead in the water, support for the gambling sector could come from an unlikely source. Yes, it’s Bunga Bunga time – former President Silvio Berlusconi could well be the man to sweep in and save the day for the sector.

Convicted of tax fraud back in 2012, Berlusconi was prohibited from standing for office in the most recent election. However, following a court ruling earlier this month, he is now clear to resume campaigning for political office in future elections – and for the man himself, the timing could not be better.

Formerly disgraced, it looks as though the collapse of the coalition could yet still pave the way for his return to the political spotlight. But how might the Berlusconi factor benefit the gambling sector?

Initially, the proposals from League regarding the gambling sector don’t have widespread support across the political spectrum, and now that their coalition hopes have been dashed, at least temporarily, they are less likely to put these measures into practice.

In a subsequent election, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party could well hold the balance of power, and analysts expect this would spell good news for the sector. As Italy’s leading media mogul, Berlusconi owns three of the seven terrestrial TV channels broadcasting in the country. His business relies heavily on advertising revenues, and in particular from the gambling sector, which spends an estimated €200 million annually on TV advertising.

When news of the League’s proposals first broke, Berlusconi was reported to have been furious with their platform, not least because of the significant financial hit this would deliver to his media empire. It seems unlikely therefore than any future Berlusconi-tinged administration would be in any hurry to support a policy platform so restrictive on the gambling sector.

Given the current state of Italian politics, few would now write-off Berlusconi’s influence in future elections. And as a potential kingmaker in waiting, the gambling sector has at least some hope of a reprieve – even in the event League still eventually makes it into government.

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