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Casinò di Campione – the struggles of Europe’s oldest casino


20 Apr 2019

By 2021, what is being billed as Europe’s largest casino will begin operating in Limassol in Cyprus.

The complex will accommodate 500 hotel rooms, 11 restaurants and a casino floor featuring 1,200 slot machines and 136 gaming tables.

Such an establishment is expected to give a major boost to the Cypriot economy.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of another venue that was previously issued with the tag of not only Europe’s largest casino, but also the oldest.

Surrounded by land belonging to Switzerland and residing on the shores of Lake Lugano, the Casinò di Campione is over 3,000km to the north west of Limassol.

The casino is based in the Italian province of Como, within the municipality of Campione d’Italia.

In the glory days, the Casinò di Campione was comfortably the biggest employer within the municipality, which nowadays is only called home by around 2,000 inhabitants.

It enjoyed a reputation as an enclave that appealed to gambling high rollers or those from privileged backgrounds.

Yet, it has been closed since last July after going bankrupt, with no current signs of the colossal yellow building getting back onto its feet again.

The Casinò di Campione over time

The Casinò di Campione’s first stint was a relatively short one, opening for the first time in 1917 and closing only two years later.

Gambling was not the establishment’s main purpose. Instead, it acted as a smokescreen for gathering intelligence from foreign diplomats during World War I.

It opened for a second time in 1933, with the proviso that the revenues would be utilised to cover the costs of operating the municipality.

This casino would eventually be demolished, following the erection of a brand-new building in 2007.

The new premises spread across nine floors, with the casino large enough to accommodate 500 slot machines and 56 table games, including roulette, baccarat, poker and Chemin de Fer.

Chemin de Fer is perhaps best known for being the preferred casino game of James Bond. We’ve previously looked in more detail at Chemin de Fer, notably its similarities and differences with regular baccarat.

However, despite attempts to appeal to Chinese and Russian big fish in particular, the new casino was consistently losing money, of which a considerable annual sum was owed to the municipality.

The Italian recession that has lasted for over a decade and the legalisation of other forms of gambling have also had a considerable impact on the casino’s success.

Bankruptcy ultimately followed last July, with a 2019 article by the Daily Telegraph highlighting that close to 500 members of staff were laid off as a result.

Many are still struggling for an alternate salary, given both the lack of other employment in the municipality and the importance of the casino in providing work for local businesses, such as bakers and taxi drivers.

Suggestions that the Casinò di Campione could become a medical clinic or a residential complex have so far amounted to nothing.

Gambling in Italy

Despite the clear struggles of the Casinò di Campione, gambling turnover in Italy has grown at a reasonable rate across the century.

The Italy 2019 Report released by independent research organisation Eurispes highlighted that turnover reached €101.8 billion in 2017.

This is substantially more than the €15.5 billion taken in 2003 and over double the €47.5 billion seen in 2008.

Over a fifth of those who gambled said that they engaged in visiting land-based casinos, although playing scratchcards and lotteries were found to be the most popular ways to gamble.

A new law passed in 2010, which allowed operators to launch online gambling opportunities as long as they obtained the necessary Italian licence, has also aided gambling in Italy.

As a result, Italian citizens can now dabble in the likes of casino games, bingo and cash poker games online.

Gambling has a rich heritage in Italy, with games including baccarat and bingo said to originate from the country late in the 15th century.

Meanwhile, the first gambling venue was opened in Venice in 1638.

Despite this, land-based casinos are in relatively short supply throughout Italy.

There are only five in total, with another sizeable one found close to the Swiss border in the northern summer holiday resort of Saint Vincent.

Alternatively, there are establishments in Venice and Sanremo, which is a city on the Mediterranean coast.

Slightly surprisingly, there are no options in the capital city of Rome.