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Gaming giant bwin is keen to establish themselves as one of the biggest online gaming operators in Europe. Their most recent act has been to orchestrate the purchase of Gioco Digitale, the most popular online poker site in Italy’s newly deregulated industry. The multi-million euro deal catapults bwin to the top of the tree in the lucrative Italian market, making them the country’s largest supplier of online poker.

The Austrian firm is reported to have paid somewhere in the region of €115 million for Gioco. Talks have been underway for some time and bwin has already purchased 56% of the Italian company with €65 million of new shares. The finer details are currently being hammered out, with the deal slated for completion in early October. It is expected that bwin will pay somewhere in the region of €50 million for the remaining portion of the Italian gaming operator.

After the collapse of Italy’s state gambling monopoly, Gioco was one of the first to capitalize on the new free market. bwin was also quick to stake their claim, becoming the first operator granted permission to offer real money skill games, back in January. As far as online poker is concerned, this purchase makes bwin the most popular site in the country. Combining their current 6% market share with the 20% of Gioco Digitale means that they will have cornered over a quarter of Italy’s players.

The aquiaition has met with wide-scale approval, an opinion echoed by the stock market. Shares in bwin rose 6.6% following the news, up to a two-month high of €30.72. Gioco has been on the rise themselves, having recently broken into the eGaming Review Power 50 – a list of the most influential online gaming operators. Over the first half of 2009 they accumulated a total income of €20.1 million, up from €13.7 million over the same period in 2008.

Bwin opted for a buy-out, in favor of establishing a competing online poker platform in Italy. Following its recent deregulation, the Italian market is expanding rapidly. Executives felt that they would not generate much needed market penetration if they had to spend a lengthy period setting up their own operation. Bwin has made strides in establishing their brand in Italy, most notably as the shirt sponsor of Italian soccer giants AC Milan. Analysts report that in the first half of this year the Italian online gambling industry generated around €26.3 billion.