Gambling in Italy has existed for centuries and has taken on many forms. The history of gambling in Italy dates back to the days of the Roman Empire, when the predecessor of the modern backgammon, Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum became popular among the Roman legionnaires. It is also due to them that the game came to other European countries.
It was in Venice, that in 1638 the first gambling house "Ridotto" was opened. It was sanctioned by the government aiming to control gambling activity of the citizens. Although the admission to that gambling house was free, only rich people could afford to play there, because the stakes were high. The games played were biribi resembling lottery and bassetta. Both games had a very high house edge. In 1774 "Ridotto" was closed which resulted in the growth of popularity of the closed gambling clubs. These clubs were called 'casinos', so the word 'casino' itself is of Italian origin.
The Italian Criminal law proclaims gambling illegal, be it organized in a public place, an open-to-public place or a private club. At the same time, according to the Italian law, there's a difference between the games of luck and games where the outcome depends on the player's skills. Sports-betting, lotteries and some other activities fall into the category of legal and regulated gambling activities.
Only the State has the right to allow gambling. AAMS (Amministrazione Autonoma dei Monopoli di Stato – Autonomous Administration of the State Monopolies) is granted the power to issue licenses and regulate other gambling matters. The punishment for breaking the law ranges from fines to imprisonment.
Italy has come a long way from totally prohibiting all gambling activities, to legalizing some of them under certain conditions. The main reason why the Italian government adhered to strict rules was the desire to avoid the possible negative effects associated with the industry. The following amendments liberalized the market in 2006:
The Finance Act 2007 was another milestone in the regulation of gambling in Italy. It legalized card games of skill, specifying that such games should be played in the form of a tournament with the stake equal to the tournament entry fee. This automatically legalized "Texas Hold'em". Other poker games as well as video poker games based on the same rules were prohibited as being dependent wholly on pure luck.
The "Comunitaria" decree (February 2011) was a real breakthrough for the gambling industry in Italy. It provided a regulation for cash poker games and casino games and also anchored changes introduced in the previous version of the decree.
One of its most notable aspects was the new tax regime based on the profit rather than on the turnover. A flat rate of 20% was to be applied to all newly legalized games except the video lottery games. Operators organizing sports and horse betting, lotteries and skill games still had to pay 3% of total tournament buy-ins sold.
Also, the new decree obliged operators to pay back to players at least 90% of the wagered money in the form of winnings. The maximum buy-in for a poker tournament was set at EUR 250 and the maximum initial stake for each gaming session could not exceed EUR 1,000.
Liberalization of the Italian online gambling market gradually started in 2006, when following the complaint received in 2003, the European Commission investigated the case and started infringement proceedings against Italy. The reason for such action was very stringent Italian legislation prohibiting even legitimate European gambling operators to offer their online services in Italy. Only the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) and the National Horse Breeders Enhancement Society (UNIRE) were allowed to arrange sports betting offline and online. Websites run by other operators were blocked to prevent Italians from using them.
As of November 2006, the blacklist of websites that didn't have Italian licenses and should have been blocked, contained 621 websites (including sites run by operators licensed in other EU states). Since the Italian authorities didn't notify the EC about the created, the country violated the EU Directive 98/34/EC (on provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations). Also, when prohibiting the functioning of any foreign operators, Italian authorities referred to the Criminal law. According to this law, organising a game of chance in a public place, an open-to-public place or a private club, was forbidden and could result in imprisonment and monetary sanction. Such activities required a special license and police authorization. However, this approach was not compatible with the principles of the EEC Treaty concerning the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide cross-border services (Articles 43 et seq. and 49).
After the EC brought infringement proceedings against Italy, in 2009 Italian authorities notified the Commission of the amendments made to the gambling law.
Since March 2010 when the new law came into power, foreign gambling operators have been able to launch online real money games. Before offering their services to Italian citizens, they should get an Italian license. AAMS (Amministrazione Autonoma dei Monopoli di Stato – Autonomous Administration of State Monopolies) is the Italian gaming authority that issues licenses. The licenses cover:
To qualify for an online gambling license, all operators should provide evidence that they meet certain requirements. These include financial, technical, social and other aspects of the business. To be granted a license, the company has:
The number of licenses that can be issued by AAMS is limited to 200.
SISAL holds the national SuperEnalotto, a lottery with one of the highest jackpots and one of the lowest odds in the world. There are other regional lotteries, some with centuries of history. The smorfia is a traditional method to pick numbers based on dreams, news events or recommendations of "gifted" people.
One of the initiatives to keep Italians from gambling is the school program BetOnMath  where three math scientists try to demonstrate to school students how the gambling industry works. Some 250 math teachers already work with the program.