Italian Government Cracking Down on Problem Gambling, Mafia Involvement

By McCarton Ackerman 03/13/15

Italy has twice as many slot machines as Las Vegas.

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Gambling was legalized in Italy, in part, to help curb illegal mafia activity, but mobsters have simply responded by building empires throughout the country in a now-legal business.

Italians gamble roughly $86 million per year, roughly half of which comes from 400,000 slot machines scattered throughout the country. There are twice as many slot machines in Italy as there are in Nevada.

Among the most recent high profile instances is the Valle mafia family, who operated more than 1,000 slot machines across the country. Their loansharking ring routinely involved threatening and beating businessmen who had borrowed money and then couldn’t pay up, often taking over their real estate holdings and businesses. Thirteen people in the alleged mob were convicted of extortion, loansharking, and money laundering, with family patriarch Francesco Valle and his son Fortunato each sentenced to 24 years.

Psychologist Simone Feder suggests that 800,000 of Italy’s 15 million gamblers are gambling addicts and has created the “No Slot Movement” to address this growing problem. Politicians throughout the country are also looking to curb problem gambling.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is considering restrictions that will reduce the number of slot machines in Italy by 25%, as well as banning them in coffee bars and requiring venues with large numbers of the machines to put them in a separate room.

“Many in the industry who are aware of the fact that in Italy there are too many opportunities to gamble,” said Paolo Baretta, the government undersecretary in charge of drafting a new law. “There is a widespread need to rein it in order to safeguard public health.”

Some Italians, however, see the huge increase in gambling as a positive development. Massimo Passamonti, president of Italy's main gambling lobby, argued that gambling legalization has created 25,000 jobs in the industry and another 100,000 in related activities. He also believes that legalizing it reduced the criminal market far more than prohibition would, but acknowledged that “the excessive supply (of slot machines) was having a negative impact on society and could turn everyone against us.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.