After changes in their country’s online gaming laws went into effect on Monday, Italian poker players woke up to find that they could not play on the international version of PokerStars, leaving many in a state of confusion as to what forced this change.

Italian online gaming regulations have constantly been changing since the middle of this decade. Back in 2006, the government enacted laws that ordered Italian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block all access by its citizens from gaming outlets located outside of the country. The Italian government determined that approximately 600 outlets fell into that category and, for some time, the only action that Italians could participate in was through the state-run companies. After the European Union threatened sizeable fines and sanctions, the Italian government backed off the regulation and dropped the partial ban, allowing for open competition from all of the world‘s online poker rooms, casinos and sports books.

Over the last couple of years, Italy has been in discussions with the EU as to what their online gaming laws could and couldn’t do. In the meantime, PokerStars continued to operate in Italy, started a dedicated site for Italian players and even created the Italian Poker Tour, which kicked off its inaugural tournament in June of this year but has yet to announce a second date. After a critical decision made by the EU in February, which passed under the radar of most in the online gaming industry, the recent changes for Italian poker players were put into effect.

Back on February 20th, the European Union agreed to changes to Italy’s online gaming regulations that effectively altered where and how Italians can play poker online. The changes that were requested by Italy’s State Monopolies Autonomous Administration (AAMS), the governmental agency that regulates the Italian online gaming industry, were quite odd but were eventually accepted by the EU. These changes included such idiosyncrasies as only tournament play being permitted; sites operating in Italy can only accept Italian taxpayers as players; the operating site’s servers must be located in Italy; and every single tournament must be pre-approved in real-time by the AAMS.

In addition to these regulations, there are also “time of play” qualifiers, which monitor how long a player has been on the site and will restrict players from participating if they have been playing too long, and no cash games on the Italian-facing sites. These as well as the other regulations were implemented on July 27th.

PokerStars has attempted to explain the changeover to the affected players, stating that they are trying to protect themselves from prosecution in Italy. In an e-mail message from the site, a spokesman told Poker News Daily, “We have no choice in this matter. The law that was passed recently by the Italian Parliament has made it very clear that offering real money online poker games to Italian residents can only be done by the sites that hold an AAMS license, like our site, and the operators that breach this provision are committing a criminal offense. Note that this new law has been submitted for approval to the European Union, and the approval was granted.”

“Furthermore”, the spokesman continued, “the Italian Government has directly requested PokerStars to stop providing services to Italian customers on its “.com” site after the new law comes into effect on the 29th of July 2009, and we have agreed to comply with this request as required by law.”

“Starting from the 27th of July 2009, Italian players will not be able to play at tables any longer, but they will be able to either transfer the assets to or convert their account into a account if they do not have one already”, he concluded.

It is possible that the European Union allowed the changes to Italy’s online gaming laws to promote the autonomy that Member Nations have as a part of the EU. It is also possible that the EU’s own inability to enact EU-wide regulation of the online gaming industry had an impact on the February decision. Regardless of why the new gaming laws are in place in Italy, PokerStars is attempting to be a responsible company in complying with the new regulations.

The change will have an effect across many different aspects of the online world. Several popular Italian professionals such as Dario Minieri, Luca Pagano and others will not be able to participate in the international online scene unless they are outside of their home nation. After the changes in the Russian poker community, the adjustments to the Italian online scene and the continued battle in the United States, poker is in a state of flux around the globe.

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