EPT8 Campione: A big lake, a big casino and a big field
The European Poker Tour inched its way into Campione d'Italia last night, a town resting almost unnoticed between the alpine foothills of Switzerland, for the next event of Season 8. I say inches because the EPT 18-wheeler would have found things a bit tight around here, the winding roads of these parts making Sanremo look like an urban metropolis with highways and shopping malls. Here though it's about the elderly and holiday homes, all currently being scrubbed ahead of the new season.
But there's a particular feature that draws people to this area, movie stars and poker players alike. And that would be the lake.
In the day Lake Lugano looks still and peaceful, bordered by brown sheer cliffs , while at night it sparkles, illuminated by the lights of Lugano to the north (€150 to the north, according to local taxi drivers), and Melida, with its dam, to the south (price unknown). In the summer the Lugano ferry service makes this one of the most peaceful commutes in the world. In the off season, well, we can see Lugano, and it looks nice from here.
But that's Switzerland, and this is EPT Campione.
Brace for a few contradictions this week. Whilst we actually crossed the Swiss border to get here (waved through unquestioned by virtue of speaking a language the guards didn't understand), we are actually in Italy. Campione is an exclave, part of one country that is completely surrounded by another, and while geographically it's technically in Switzerland, politically it's all Italian.
The Italian tricolour flaps in the breeze alongside the flag of the European Union, but the cars parked on its streets are largely Swiss, as is the money spent in one of several dubious looking bars. If you fall out of one of these bars you can use a Swiss telephone to call a Swiss ambulance who will then take you to a Swiss hospital. But that's academic as few people not from around here have enough money to afford the drinks in the first place.
These bars (and a few money exchange centres) make up what you would say is the centre of Campione, which is little more than half a square mile in size. Looking around, with the lake behind you, there's little else to stands out; a few apartment blocks perhaps, and a church tower. Oh wait, what's that ginormous hulk of right angled concrete visible for miles?
That's Casino di Campione.
Glowing red, blue and green, with a loud speaker seemingly broadcasting the noise inside, to the outside; Casino di Campione is impossible to miss; from the middle of town, the other side of the lake, Switzerland, Space. As a symbol for this region, it can only be the equivalent of a giant middle finger, extended towards the local planning department; testimony to people's desire to play, win, lose, and have fun in ways many people don't seem to understand. And when you live so far away from anything else of that description, you don't begrudge the locals for having it.
Casino Campione (centre)
This week it's not just the locals taking a seat.
This is the first time the EPT has been to Campione, but not the Italian Poker Tour, which regularly fills this place to the sound of riffling chips and various Italian expletives. Today the doors are thrown open (albeit after several security checks) to a worldwide field, currently basking (braising?) outside in 22 degree sunshine that will turn a few people pink this week. Their numbers are expected to be large when play begins shortly.
Find coverage of the week here on the PokerStars Blog through to the final table on Saturday.