Europe’s largest and oldest casino rolls the dice and reopens
The main motive for opening a casino in Campione, a tiny Italian enclave surrounded by Switzerland, in 1917 was for the premises to be used as a base for spying on foreign diplomats during the first world war. It closed a couple of years later but reopened in 1933, the same year Benito Mussolini added “d’Italia” to the town’s name to assert its Italian identity.
Over the ensuing decades, Casinò di Campione, the oldest and largest in Europe, brought riches to the town and, as the main employer, became so embedded in its livelihood that when it abruptly closed in 2018 after going bust, the community of fewer than 2,000 was shocked to the core.
Now brighter days are ahead after a court in the Lombardy town of Como approved a rescue plan that will enable the casino to reopen before the end of the year.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the town,” said Paolo Bortoluzzi, Campione d’Italia’s councillor for infrastructure. “Finally, we’re emerging from a really difficult period. We need to finalise a few things, but hope to reopen the casino as soon as possible.”
When it closed, resulting in the loss of almost 500 direct jobs and another 300 in affiliated businesses, it was a blow to the heart of the community, he said. Bereft of its main attraction, the number of visitors to Campione d’Italia fell and some shops, bars and restaurants were forced to close. The situation was then aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The whole town and its identity revolved around the casino … people grew up with it. It was like an earthquake when everything collapsed,” he said.
About 174 people will be hired to work at the casino initially, rising to 280 over the next five years.
Roberto Canesi, the town’s mayor, said in a statement: “The citizens of Campione can finally look to the future with optimism, leaving behind these dramatic past three years characterised by the long closure of the principle source of support for the local economy.”
Campione d’Italia, which lies on the shore of Lake Lugano, was part of the Swiss customs union and exempt from VAT before rejoining the Italian economy and, as a result, the EU’s customs union in January 2020.
The town is one of four places in Italy to have a licence for a casino, which transferred to new premises designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta in 2007. The venue, which has space for as many as 1,000 slot machines, performed strongly until the popularity of online gaming hit its revenues.