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Hundreds out of work after Italian casino shuts

Tue, May 28, 8:48am by Staff Writer

A tiny Italian enclave on the shores of Switzerland’s Lake Lugano is fighting for its survival after its main source of income – a giant casino – went bankrupt.

“SOS Campione is dead” reads a giant banner hanging opposite the immense casino, made up of modernistic cubic-shaped blocks with darkened windows stretching 10 floors high, Yahoo reports.

“Rien ne va plus” – the French version of “no more bets” – reads another banner on a tent set up by the unions representing some 500 casino employees who suddenly found themselves without work.

For the 1961 inhabitants of this one square kilometer sovereign Italian territory inside southern Switzerland, the closure of the public casino has been devastating.

For decades, it guaranteed the prosperity of the town, 23 kilometres from Italy.

“Those who were lucky enough to be born here, were lucky enough to have a job,” Fiorenzo Dorigo, who worked at the casino for 21 years told the AFP.

“Once you were done with your studies and military service, you reunited with all of our old school mates working at the casino,” he said.

But that comradery and income security evaporated last July, when a local Italian court in Como ordered the casino to close after it failed to honour its financial obligations to authorities in Campione, which is part of Como province.

The atmosphere in the community now that the casino is shut is “sad” said Evgenia Petrova, a 52-year-old Russian artist living in Campione since 2012.

The typical Italian positivity, which used to distinguish the village from the surrounding Swiss communities, “is not obvious anymore” she told AFP, looking sadly out the window of her paint splashed studio.

Residents still hope for the casino’s resurrection though.

A Milan court recently overturned the Como legal ruling on the grounds of procedural inconsistencies.

Last month, the Italian government sent an expert to evaluate the possibilities of bringing the casino back to life.

Inhabitants are demanding that come comes to the rescue.

“Campione is Italian. Italy cannot just abandon it. It must take all possible steps to save the enclave,” unionist Vincenzo Falanga said.

Casino closure leaves many out of work

The Casino of Campione is the largest employer in the municipality.

The Presidents of the Works Council Rosy Bianchi said: “it’s an incredible drama for us, our families and the whole village.”

The 2000-strong village’s livelihood has revolved around gambling since the casino first opened in 1917 as a front for gathering intelligence from foreign diplomats during the First World War.

The casino closed in 1919, but reopened in 1933 with its income covering the costs of operating the municipality.

For years the gambling revenues were good and it was just ne of a handful of controlled, legal casinos and the municipality thrived only off its revenue.

In 2007 a massive new palace was built with more than 55,000 square metres of space on nine floors, with the old casino destroyed.

Less than a year later Italy was plunged into a decade-long recession that remains.

The recession along with the strengthening Swiss franc against the euro and legalisation of slot machines and other forms of gambling have slowly eaten away at the venue’s bottom line.

According to court documents, the failed casino’s debts are now estimated to be round 73 million euros, with the list of creditors raining from the village bakery and local fire department to luxury hotel owners, Balkan financiers, online gambling companies and banks.

The Como court ordered the casino’s closure while prosecutors investigated its financial mismanagement.

Campione residents fear if the state doesn’t step in soon, their town will become a ghost town, haunted by the giant shuttered casino in its midst.

“Campione always was envied as an enclave of wealth and privilege, so now in this grave moment for so many families, instead of getting help, we’re getting insults,” the former head of the casino’s food and beverage unit and casino workers’ union leader Mirko Chirico said.

Nearly 500 laid-off workers haven’t received salaries or benefits since July.

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