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Kevin Smith

Italian Authorities Take Issue with Cora

13 February 2002

The two main parties involved aren't saying much, but industry experts feel a recent raid of Italian soccer club AS Roma's headquarters due to a relationship with Internet betting firm Coral Eurobet is being blown out of proportion.

AS Roma, the defending champions of the Serie A division in Italy, had its administrative offices raided Monday by Italian tax police. The raid was sparked after Roma's high-profile weekend match against Juventus, at which Coral Eurobet signs were placed on the sidelines of the field.

" This is nothing more than a storm in a glass of water."
- Quirino Mancini
Sinisi Ceschini Mancini

Eurobet has caught the ire of Italian authorities with its U.K.-based Internet betting site. The tax police raided the offices of the club searching for contracts and other materials that would have linked the club with the betting operator.

Gambling on sports events is heavily restricted in Italy, and the public prosecutor for Rome, Giuseppe Andruzzi, launched an investigation in May into Web sites such as Eurobet.

The raid was widely reported in the European press, but one Italian gaming expert says there really is nothing to the story.

Quirino Mancini, a lawyer who represents both land-based and online gaming interests, said the raid was clearly spurred by the match, which drew a TV audience of more than 1 billion people worldwide.

"This is nothing more than a storm in a glass of water," he said. "I would be rather surprised if any legal action was actually taken by the magistrates."

Simon Clare, the marketing director for Eurobet didn't want to comment on the raid in particular, but he did say the company has aggressively targeted Italy, as it has a number of other major European countries.

He said the signage at the soccer matches is a major part of that campaign, that Eurobet has been paying for the service since last season and that it has placed its signs at numerous other stadiums within the league this season.

"We take bets from players all around the world," Clare said. "The fact that we got perimeter signage around the Roma pitch was a commercial deal that we have done with a number of Serie A matches. It is a deal which we believe is not breaking any Italian law."

Mancini said Eurobet is not the only gaming entity trying to market its product to the Italian consumer.

"It is absolutely within our rights to advertise in Italy, and it is the right of an Italian citizen to bet over the Internet if the site is registered in its home country."
- Simon Clare

Over the past several months various Italian TV and radio stations have carried ads by Malta-based and Slovenia-based casino houses, he said, and no action is reported to have been taken by the Italian law enforcement. He did say, however, that they were promoting gambling services that are illegal under Italian law.

The raid comes at a time when the Italian government is undecided about what to do with Internet gambling. Eurobet is not an Italian company, and the legal status of online gaming sites remains unclear in Italian law.

Land-based bookmakers in Italy are granted licenses by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and have to register with the state they are in.

A spokesman for Italy's tax police told Reuters they visited Roma's headquarters in an attempt to find out who was behind the decision to advertise Eurobet at the Olympic stadium, which is owned by CONI.

"Today we searched Roma's headquarters looking for a contract between the club and the British bookmakers Eurobet and to find the eventual responsibility for publicizing the activity of this company at the Olympic stadium," the spokesman said Monday.

On Wednesday Clare reiterated what had been said in the European media regarding the raid--that Eurobet's operations didn't come under the jurisdiction of any Italian law enforcement group.

"We are not in Italy," he said. "We are an Internet site which is licensed in the U.K. with a Web site which obviously has a global reach. It is absolutely within our rights to advertise in Italy, and it is the right of an Italian citizen to bet over the Internet if the site is registered in its home country."

Mancini said that some Italian authorities may not be happy to see an influx of gaming related advertisements in Italy, but there is very little they can do about it. He said one Internet casino recently launched an offline campaign that included street posters, newspapers and radio ads, and no authorities raised any questions over it.

However, having Eurobet placing ads in front of so many people at the Roma/Juventus match, he said, was enough to get someone to act.

"It was inevitable for the law enforcement to take some action, even if it was just a formality, to show everybody that they are on the watch," he said.

Clare wasn't willing to speculate what the reason was for the raid, but he isn't worried about his company getting in hot water with Italian authorities.

"It is hard to know what their motivation is," he said. "They clearly feel there was good reason to go into the Roma offices. The only Coral Eurobet involvement in Italy is a big piece of cardboard which sits on the side during the matches."

Italian Authorities Take Issue with Cora is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith