Italian online poker figures have been hard to come by in recent years.
The national regulatory body (AAMS) had stopped releasing statistics for two years, with numbers only now available on a section of the AAMS website that is only accessible by online gambling operators.
But the mystery over what has been happening in the Italian online gambling market was at least temporarily solved this week, as Italian media obtained data that included a variety of information about Internet gambling in the country.
The statistics, covering the first half of 2015, showed the same pattern seen in most markets around the world: the continued growth of overall online gambling, but drop-offs in poker revenue.
The biggest problem for the Italian online poker market appears to be in cash games.
Year-over-year, the first half revenues for cash games declined by 23 percent, falling to €44.7 million ($50.3 million).
Not surprisingly, tournament poker was much healthier: the introduction of Spin and Go tournaments at PokerStars seemed to provide a bounce in those figures, as they have in other markets.
While it is hard to be sure exactly what happened in tournament poker revenues, as they are not reported independently.
However, they do make up the vast majority of revenues classified as “skill games;” as this category only fell by 3 percent, it is a safe bet that tournament revenues were much more stable in the country than cash games.
It would be easy to assume that such losses were part of a broader decline in the Italian online gambling market, but this is not the case. In fact, the overall market is doing quite well: it is only poker that is struggling to find its footing in the country.
The figures reported by Italian media showed that gross gaming revenues were up nearly nine percent for the year so far, totaling €390 million ($439 million). That was driven primarily by growth in casino games (24 percent) and sports betting (18 percent).
Poker’s inability to keep up with other online gambling pursuits could stem from a variety of issues.
There have been reports by AAMS that have suggested that Italians have simply lost interest in Texas Hold’em and other forms of poker, particularly when it comes younger players: demographic data shows that the player pool is slowly growing older.
Italy’s segregated player pool could also be blamed for the inability to grow a stable online poker market.
As with other major European markets like Spain and France, Italian poker sites are segregated from international players, meaning Italians can only compete amongst themselves.
This severely limits the liquidity available on sites in the country.
While Italy has a large enough population to avoid a disastrous drop off in the number and size of online poker games available to players, it could be creating a slow bleed and less enthusiasm from other players, something that could be reversed if Italy and other European segregated markets could agree to combine their player pools, especially in cash games.
PokerStars is the market leader in the Italian online poker industry, enjoying 66 percent of all cash game traffic in the country. According to PokerScout, PokerStars.it averages about 1,200 cash game players at any time, with its closest rival, iPoker.it, only averages 280 players.