Campione d’Italia, 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 hung opposite the immense casino, made up of modernistic cubic-shaped blocks with darkened windows stretching 10 floors high.
“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 1,961 inhabitants of this one-square-kilometre sovereign Italian territory inside southern Switzerland, the closure of the public casino has been devastating.
Hoping for resurrection
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.
But residents still hope for the casino’s resurrection.
Competition, online gambling
In 2007, after seven years of construction, a brand new, 36,000-square-metre, ochre-coloured casino, saw the light of day.
The colossus, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, can accommodate 3,100 gamblers at a time, offering them 56 tables and around 1,000 slot machines to choose from.
But new laws permitting slot machines in bars and cafes and the rise of online gambling have gradually whittled away the house winnings.
The strengthening of the Swiss franc against the euro, as well as the opening of three large Swiss casinos nearby since 2000 have also taken their toll.
Over the past decade, as the casino’s profits fell, so too did the town’s fortunes.