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Palumbo: Italy Will Likely Lose Its EPT Stop, and It Deserves To
If you're a passionate fan of international poker you're most definitely familiar with the name Rocco Palumbo.
At just 27 years old Palumbo is already ensconced in the history books of Italian poker thanks to winning a WSOP bracelet in 2012 and adding a WPT title the following year.
In his career he's already accumulated over $1.4m in live tournaments even though he's primarily an online poker player under the nickname RoccoG.
A member of the winning Italian team at the Global Poker Masters in Malta, PokerListings Italy's Francesco Esposito talked with Palumbo about life as a poker player in Slovenia (where he's lived for the last 3 years), the poker crisis in Italy and why we might not see the EPT back in Italy again.
Francesco Esposito: How many years have you been playing poker at a professional level?
Rocco Palumbo: It has been at least seven years now since poker has been a permanent job for me. Surely there are ups and downs in the trade and in fact I was quite unlucky in these last two years.
FE: You were one of the first poker players to run away from Italy ...
RP: I wouldn’t actually say that I ran away but as a matter of fact it has been almost three years now since I have moved to Slovenia.
I lived for a year in Portorož but then I moved to Nova Gorica, on the border to Italy, for practical reasons. My son does not live with me and in this way I have a chance to see him more often.
To this I add that Nova Gorica is in a way “very Italy."
FE: While everyone flew to London or to Malta you chose Slovenia. For what reason?
RP: In fact I was one of the first to choose Slovenia, but since then a healthy community of poker players has been growing.
There are at least 30 Italians and even they have moved there mostly so that they can be close to Italy rather than for other reasons.
FE: How’s life in Slovenia?
RP: I must say that the people in Slovenia are extremely friendly with poker players and in general with foreigners who move to their country.
It is nonetheless a country of the ex-Yugoslavia that has recently come out of a complicated period and many things are different in comparison to destinations such as Malta and London.
Yet the landscapes and the nature there are certainly a plus, especially for those who love the outdoors.
The country has also been modernising itself in the last few years, but the cost of living stays lower when compared to the European average, which is undoubtedly very positive to those who move there.
FE: And from a poker player’s point of view?
RP: For players, Slovenia is an excellent destination. There are various casinos in which one can play cash, and also with regards to tournaments the choice is vast.
For example at the Perla tournaments of all sorts are held very frequently. I would say that most common type is the mid-low buy-in, around €300 more specifically.
I personally prefer to play online and I have the possibility to play in foreign poker rooms, which is not allowed in Italy. In this way I can also play in important online tournaments.
But I must say that in Slovenia it is possible to live off of poker even simply playing live.
FE: How do you see, on the other hand, the situation with poker in Italy?
RP: I honestly believe that nothing will change until something really extraordinary happens. The risk is that many poker providers decide to move away from the country.
To this I add that those who live off of poker pack their bags and take their experience and money to foreign countries. Italy seems really not to worry about this problem, at least as long as the gambling sector and the various Scratch and Win and national lotteries provide a source of revenue.
FE: What could be a possible change to convince players to stay in Italy?
RP: If any Italian politician would call me right now offering me a taxation at 30% on my winnings in poker, I wouldn’t think about it twice and I would go back to live in my country.
Consider that at the moment I don’t pay taxes on gaming, because that’s how it works in Slovenia, but even in other countries such as London or Malta I would have better benefits compared to 30%.
But the truth is that Italian players do not ask for special treatment, just to be taxed as any other citizen that works as a freelancer. What I would like is to have a normal taxation system and at the same time benefit from basic things such as being able to go to a bank and ask for a loan.
In other words, do all the things that any other worker can do in his own country.
FE: It is not just the players who are leaving Italy, the EPT in Sanremo also risks being cancelled. What do you think about this?
RP: I believe that as things are going in our country I am not surprised at all. The situation of the Italian casinos is really tragic, and I say this reluctantly because I love playing at Sanremo as well as in the other casinos.
Venice is an incredible place and even Campione is beautiful. But the truth is that even though the places are beautiful and full of history, the casinos’ management is really awful and I can’t find a good reason, if I put myself in a foreigner’s place, to go and play in Italy.
It's not possible to play online, the gaming halls are badly placed and are often difficult to get to with public transport, not to mention that in our country everything costs more.
FE: Do you think the cancelling of the EPT in Sanremo would be deserved?
RP: It is essentially a problem of the wrong mentality. The casinos in Italy belong to the State and the people who work in them are not motivated to make them work properly, since in any case they receive their wages at the end of the month.
It is really a big problem because the client that enters the casino perceives the disinterest of the employees that behave exactly as if they don’t want to work.
Every time there was an EPT there was some kind of strike by the workers, increasing the inconveniences for the players who already have to put up with exaggerated prices for food and drinks, which are increased for the event not to mention the hotels.
So like this we will lose, and we deserve it, the stop of the EPT in Italy along with all the work and money that it brings in the country.
I have my heart at Sanremo, since I was born in Liguria, and if the EPT was to be reconfirmed I would be the first to go there.
But I understand the complaints by the foreigners and should they stop having stages in Italy I wouldn’t blame them.
FE: We can't not ask you whether you plan to participate in the next Battle of Malta
RP: I know that it will be next November, and in fact the possibility that I will be there is high, especially since I play a lot on 888poker which is one of the tournament’s sponsors and I will try to qualify with some online satellite.
Yours is an international tournament, and the location is great, so the conditions are all there.
Also, since this is my first time in Malta, I think the Battle of Malta could be a good chance to come back here and evaluate the island better as a possible place where I could live in the future.