For centuries, Italy has been known for its beauty and culture. Travelers from throughout Europe and around the world would come to the nation to vacation on the beaches of Tuscany, to enjoy fine Italian food, and to experience cultural landmarks that date back to the Roman Empire. Of course, you can still do all of that today – in between the gambling you’ll be partaking in.
Okay, so gambling might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italy these days, but it’s an industry that has taken off in recent years there; a trend that has many Italians worried about how their society might be changing, and not necessarily for the better.
Veni, Vedi, Vici
Take the town of Pavia, located about 25 miles south of Milan, in Lombardy. Travelers have sought it out it for its monastery that dates back to the Renaissance, while students often go there to study at its prestigious universities. But today, Pavia is also known as the gambling capital of Italy.
Pavia is now filled with video lottery terminals (VLTs) and slot machines, and easy access to gambling can be found in 13 different dedicated venues – along with at most convenience stores, shopping malls, coffee bars and gas stations. According to one estimate, there’s one gambling machine in the city for every 104 residents.
That might just be a fun statistic, if it weren’t for the impact that many residents believe those machines are having on their community. According to critics, the rise of these gambling machines has created an increase in problem gambling. This, in turn, has led to a host of societal problems, like broken families, bankruptcies, depression and domestic violence.
That’s a story that is repeating itself throughout Italy – perhaps not always as dramatically as in Pavia, but with much of the same results in many other towns and cities around the country. It’s the result of a massive deregulation of the gambling industry that occurred in Italy about a decade ago, a move that has brought a host of good and bad consequences for the nation.
Italy Third in World Now for Gambling
In the time since that deregulation, Italy has become Europe’s largest gambling market, and one of the largest in the world – only behind Macau and the United States. Authorities also rooted out illegal gambling networks, allowing a new, regulated industry to flourish. But while the numbers from gambling look impressive – Italians were expected to spend $115 billion on gambling in 2013 – many say that it’s not really helping the country, especially when the social ills that emerge from uncontrolled gambling are considered.
“It is an anti-economy that impoverishes, because it doesn’t spread money around, it just gobbles it up,” said Pavia-based psychologist Simon Feder.
Many Italians have had enough of the gambling expansion, and are now working to reduce the availability of such games. Earlier this year, Lombardy passed laws similar to those in five other regions of the country, designed to help addicts and limit gambling opportunities. Many towns and cities have also passed laws that have reduced the hours during which gambling is legal.
The real fight, though, may be between these local governments and the national government. While municipalities may see the harmful effects of gambling up close, gambling affects the national government in another way – it’s a major revenue source, bringing in $11 billion per year. That’s why the Italian Senate recently passed a law that would cut funding to regions and cities that took anti-gambling measures. That bill sparked outrage, which led to it being rejected by the lower house of the Italian government.
Still, the tensions between national and local governments aren’t likely to go away any time soon.
“The government gets the profits, the territory gets the problems,” said Lombardy lawmaker Angelo Ciocca.