A little over a week ago, a news story broke that Juventus footballer Nicolo Fagioli had been charged with betting offences that would see him serve a seven-month ban from the game.
But the situation has escalated since, with two more players – Newcastle United’s Sandro Tonali and Aston Villa loanee Nicolo Zaniolo – since implicated in the scandal.
And if they are found guilty of the charges, they could be banned from football for up to three years – news that will sadden fans of the Magpies in particular.
Newcastle signed the 23-year-old midfielder Tonali from AC Milan for £55 million back in the summer.
And it was his time at the Serie A club that has ultimately gotten him into trouble with football’s governing bodies.
In a hearing held by prosecutors and overseen by the Italian Football Federation, Tonali admitted to betting on football matches – including those involving AC Milan. Although the wagers he placed on the Rossoneri were all on the side to win, he could still be banned for up to three years despite now coming under the jurisdiction of the Premier League.
Tonali has claimed that he had never bet on a game in which personally had played or been amongst the unused substitutes, which would free him of potentially more serious charges of alleged match fixing.
Because the player has been cooperative throughout the matter, it’s possible that his sanction could be shorter – perhaps even a ban of between seven months and one year.
Until his punishment is confirmed, Tonali remains available for selection – Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has suggested that the Italian will feature against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The Bets Are Off
The rules on betting for footballers in Italy are somewhat more relaxed – they can have a flutter on other sports and even some overseas football via sites that are legal and licensed in the country, with Article 24 of the Sporting Justice Code prohibiting them from wagering on any competition ran by the Italian Football Association, UEFA or FIFA.
So it’s against the rules to bet on pretty much any European football game or to wager on other sports at offshore and/or black market sites – legislation that Fagioli has admitted to breaching.
The Juventus man faced a similar investigation to that of Tonali, admitting a comparable set of charges – albeit not betting on his own team. He was handed a 12-month ban from football, with five months of the term suspended, and fined £11,000.
A third Italian player, Nicolo Zaniolo, was removed from the national team’s training camp along with Tonali when the news broke earlier this week. The Aston Villa man, currently on loan at Turkish outfit Galatasaray, had his mobile phone and tablet confiscated while prosecutors examine the allegations made against him.
However, the player’s lawyer – Gianluca Tognozzi – has claimed that Zaniolo hadn’t bet on football at all; instead, the allegations against him pertain to games of online poker or blackjack played at an illegal site, which the 24-year-old has claimed he didn’t know was a black market operation.
For Tonali and Zanioli, the cases continue.
The latest figures would suggest that the numbers of people accessing illegal and black market betting sites in Italy is on the rise.
According to the esteemed Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, punters are wagering as much as €25 billion with unlicensed firms each and every year, with profits for the illicit operators reaching €1 billion annually. It’s also been reported that nearly 10,000 illegal sites have been geo-blocked by Italian authorities so far in 2023.
Of all the broad issues attached to the black market, the possibility of punters using unsafe sites means that their payment details can be hacked, while a lack of basic consumer protection can also leave customers out of pocket if the outfit ceases to operate without prior warning.
The European Gaming & Betting Association has claimed that a ban on gambling adverts in Italy has pushed punters to the unregulated market, calling for the country to revise their legislation.
“Without a sufficient level of advertising, there is no real way for Italians to tell the difference between a gambling website which is licensed in Italy – and applies the country’s consumer protection rules – and one that is not,” the group’s general secretary, Maarten Haijer, commented.
With tighter legislation imminent in the UK sector, stakeholders will be fearful of the risks posed by the emerging unregulated market.