Betting websites are blocked in Italy

By EDRi · June 21, 2006

Following a fierce battle between an authority of the Italian State and
private european online betting companies over their activity in Italy, a
big number of betting websites are officialy blocked for Italian Internet

Everything began with the 2006 financial law (Law 266/2005) voted by the
Parliament under the outgoing Berlusconi government. The law included four
provisions – namely paragraph 535-58 of art.1 – which gave the
Amministrazione Autonoma dei Monopoli di Stato (AAMS or Autonomous
Administration of State Monopolies, a part of the Ministry of Economy and
Finances) the power to bring to the attention of:
(a) providers of Internet services, or
(b) providers of other data or telecommunication networks, or
(c) entities that offer networks or telecommunication services in
relationship to (a) or (b), all those instances in which someone offers games
or bets where money can be lost or won without having the proper
authorization that is usually granted by AAMS itself.

Upon receiving such communication from the AAMS, the subjects from (a)
to (c) have the legal obligation to inhibit usage of the networks that they
manage or for which they provide betting and gaming services “by adopting
appropriate technical measures to this end”.

The AAMS proceeded on 13 February 2006 to compile and publish a first
list of websites that should not be accessed from Italian networks.
Compliant ISPs generally implemented the restriction by “hijacking” DNS
communication and redirecting it to the DNS server of the AAMS. The end
result is that users trying to access such websites are instead getting a
notice saying that “pursuant to the decree of the AAMS of 7 February 2006
the requested website is not accessible because it does not have the
necessary authorizations for collecting bets in Italy”.

Of course, reactions flocked in by all sides. Several betting companies,
including UK-based William Hill (which is included on the list of blocked
websites) announced they would recur to the European Court of Justice for
what they claim is blatant violation of the basic principles of the
European internal market.

The Remote Gambling Association immediately started to negotiate a
compromise with the Italian government, but until now no agreement seems to
have been reached.

Moreover, several Italian commentators noticed how poor the employed
system is from a technical point of view. It is in fact sufficient in
most cases to remove the leading “www” prefix to access the blocked
websites. Other strategies, including the usage of web proxies, are
also possible.

The Italian chapter of ISOC (Internet Society) took a
firm technical position, considering that the proposed measures were
ineffective and in any case were far away from the “best practices” in the
sector – while at the same time noticing that the outcries of “censorship”
seemed misplaced because of the subject matter under discussion.

While ISOC explicitly chose to avoid the “censorship” argument, other
commentators argued that by blocking entire websites the proposed solution
ment in fact severely limiting the right of all Italian citizens to access
information, as granted by the Italian Constitution and several
international instruments. If the goal was to impede the act of gambling
then any measure should have been proportionate to this
specific goal. Impeding Italian citizens to access a website and the
information contained therein arguably is not.

One company, Malta-based Astrabet Bookmaker Ltd., went further and requested
the Second Section of the Civil Tribunal of Rome to declare the measure
illegitimate, insofar as it cut off Astrabet’s website from the Italian

On 10 April 2006 Judge Lorenzo Pontecorvo issued a writ by which it ordered
AAMS to immediately remove Astrabet from the “blacklist”. In his reasoning,
Judge Pontecorvo touched on a number of interesting and potential
far-reaching issues, including how AAMS’ right to grant licenses only
applies to the Italian territory, while Astrabet is established in and
operates from Malta and that the contract between users and Astrabet,
according to the facts and the law, is performed in Malta.
He also pointed out that according to the European jurisprudence, blocking or
limiting the activities of Astrabet constitutes a violation of the “freedom
to provide services” principle as enshrined in the EU Treaty and that the
claims by AAMS and others, according to which Astrabet was guilty of “unfair
competition” by “diverting customers” to its website, is completely
unfounded, since Astrabet is simply providing services through the Net, “a
reality which cannot be ignored anymore”.

AAMS counter-attacked by appealing the decision and refusing – for technical
reasons – to remove Astrabet from the blacklist. In an official press
release of 12 May 2006, AAMS wrote that the Astrabet issue is “an isolated
case” and that the Maltese company had “engaged in non-ritual activities
with the sole goal to obtain undeserved privileges and behaviours which
would be discriminatory towards other subjects that are legally operating in

Although technically avoidable, the blacklist is apparently still applied by
Italian ISPs.

Italian Financial Law 266/2005 (in Italian only, 23.12.2005)

AAMS list of websites to be blocked from 13 February 2006 (7.02.2006)

ISOC Italia position regarding the filtering of websites that offer online
gambling (in Italian only, 15.03.2006)

Civil Tribunal of Rome, Second Section, Ordinance (in Italian only,

Clarifications of AAMS on the AstraBet case (in Italian only, 12.05.2006)

(Contribution by Andrea Glorioso, consultant on digital policies – Italy)