Italy has the fourth largest gambling market in the world. Only the United States, Japan, and Macau spend more time and resources on their gaming industries than Italy. The flourishing enterprise is a direct result of a political move 10 years ago which loosened gaming regulations in the country, making slot machines and video lottery terminals, or V.L.T.s, available practically everywhere. As such, the Italian gambling market may have reached its saturation point; last October, the region of Lombardy became the sixth area of Italy to attempt a crackdown on local gaming.
Concerned Citizens vs. Gaming Officials: Opposing Viewpoints
While some concerned citizens feel that gambling has become an excessive problem in the country, gaming officials argue that Italy's addiction rates are on par with the rest of Europe. It is not clear at this point how these clashing viewpoints will resolve. Case in point: A 2012 University of Rome study found that nearly 800,000 Italians are at risk for serious gambling addiction. Industry representatives countered this finding by asserting the fact that only 7,000 citizens have actually sought addiction treatment through state-sponsored programs. Massimo Passamonti, president of Sistema Gioco Italia, stated that the addiction problem, while it exists, is “not an epidemic.”
Slots and V.L.T.s: Available Everywhere
Part of the citizens' concern is that Italian slot machines and V.L.T.s are inescapable to the public. These beckoning machines are found not only in casinos, but also in coffee houses, bars, gas stations, grocery stores, and malls. If the machines were only available in gambling halls, as they are in some other areas of the world, citizens argue that they would be gambling more responsibly and losing less often. As it stands now, the temptation to wager money is practically everywhere in Italy. Many people find this temptation too difficult to resist.
“No Slot” Movement in Pavia
The town of Pavia, once celebrated for the high culture of its universities and Renaissance monastery, has watched many citizens fall prey to the glitzy allure of slots and V.L.T.s over the past 10 years. Psychologist Simone Feder wants to change this trend by undoing the decade-old political move that made “V.L.T.” a household world. Feder founded an anti-gambling movement which demands the ban of slots and V.L.T.s in public spaces. He recently quipped that the gaming industry is “anti-economy” because, rather than spreading money around, it simply “gobbles it up.” He and other social workers worry that more and more citizens will eventually find themselves financially and personally devastated if this trend is not halted.
The Government's Fears: Public Funding, Crime Resurgence
On the flip side, government officials worry that gaming policy changes could be lethal. Because gambling has become so rampant in Italy over the past decade, government agencies have reaped the financial benefits. Public funding is at an all-time high. Back in 2001, total gambling revenue for the country tipped the scales at slightly more than $5.5 million. In 2012, total gambling revenue was nearly $22.5 million. Critics fear that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Italian government to maintain things as they are if over $15 million of yearly revenue were to suddenly vanish.
Another fear is that the criminal activity which ruled Italian gambling before deregulation could rise again. Before gaming became readily available to the public 10 years ago, organized crime basically controlled the gambling scene of Italy. If gaming were to once again become restricted, Passamonti fears that the “increase in illegality” could cause organized crime to once again take hold of the industry.
Feder's Plan: Difficult Logistics
Feder's plan was designed with good intentions. The logistics of carrying it out, however, could prove to be a challenge. If slots and V.L.T.s were prohibited in coffee shops, for example, some coffee shop proprietors might balk at the new rules. Money-wagering games, though addictive and potentially hazardous, provide a profitable customer draw for business owners. Put simply, a coffee shop owner who unplugs his V.L.T.s would lose money to the coffee shop owner who does not unplug his V.L.T.s.
Feder's plan could also play out in another way. Instead of strictly prohibiting slots and V.L.T.s in public places, the government could reward businesses who voluntarily rid themselves of the machinery with a tax break. Critics fear, however, that a tax break would not be enough of an incentive to convince businesses to take the plunge. Small businesses thrive on their ability to draw customers; when the draw is gone, profits sink. No tax break could rival such a huge financial drawback.
V.L.T.s: High Winning Odds
Part of the reason Italy's V.L.T.s are so popular is that they sport high winning odds. The payout on V.L.T.s must, by law, be at least 85 percent. For every $100 wagered on a V.L.T., $85 will eventually be returned to players in winnings. The trick, of course, is to be one of the players who nabs those winnings.
Only Internet gambling offers a higher winning percentage than the Italian V.L.T. Online (click for info), some players can expect up to 98 percent of the money they wager to be returned, either to them or somebody else. Once again, the trick is to be the player that wins.
Online Gambling in Italy
In 2006, Italian officials tried to block citizen access to a Malta gaming authority website. In so doing, the country was trying to protect its own financial interests by keeping profits at home. According to EU law, however, Internet borders must be kept open in terms of online gambling. It was ruled that Italy must allow its citizens to freely gamble via other EU-affiliated sites.
A similar conflict rages right now between the U.S. and Antigua. Years ago, the U.S. blocked citizen access to Antigua online gaming sites in order to protect its own financial interests. The World Trade Organization intervened, decreeing that Internet gambling borders must be kept open between all countries that subscribe to its treaty. This conflict has yet to be resolved.