Italy Wrestles With Its Gambling Habit

By McCarton Ackerman 12/26/12

The country plans 1,000 new gambling establishments, despite an already-alarming national problem.

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Despite a problematic gambling habit, Italy is moving forward with plans to install 1,000 new gambling arcades around the country. Silvio Berlusconi's last government authorized the new video poker saloons in 2011—and despite an attempt from current Prime Minister Mario Monti to suspend a contest to allocate the licenses, it will go ahead by the end of January. Italy's gambling laws used to be among the strictest in the world, but pressure to boost tax revenues and pay off massive public debts led to the legalization of scratch-card lottery tickets in 1994. By 2010, Italy's per capita spending on betting was the fifth highest in the world, according to Global Betting and Gaming Consultants. Associazione Libera, a religious NGO, estimates that there are 800,000 problem gamblers in the country. But because gambling addiction isn't recognized by Italian authorities, these people aren't eligible for treatment by the national health system. Certain regions are beginning to address the problem, though: South Tyrol, where the number of compulsive gamblers seeking help rose 76% in the last year, has announced a ban on slot machines within 300 meters of "sensitive locations" like schools, retirement homes and hospitals. The gambling industry's representative body is preparing to challenge that order. Authorities in Rome have also introduced measures which will require gambling machines to carry "health warnings" and to indicate what the odds are against winning. But the biggest deterrent may be Italy's continuing recession and the tax increases ordered by the Monti government—factors that are credited with causing a slight dip in Italy's gambling this year.

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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.