High stakes: Italians count social cost of gambling

The gambling industry has become highly lucrative in Italy, turning over almost 80 billion euro last year, second only to the US. However, new government measures seek to curtail the rising addiction epidemic in the country.

­At the end of the month a draft bill will be presented in the Italian parliament to counteract all forms of gambling. The legislation will also stipulate new regulations on the promotion and advertising of gambling with a view to protecting young people increasingly involved in the sport.

Research carried out by Italy’s Institute of Clinical Physiology revealed that over 17 million Italians are active gamblers and around 500,000 are estimated to have serious problems. The study puts young people between the ages of 15 and 24 at highest risk from internet gambling and other electronic games.

In response to the sharp increase in the Italian market, key politicians have been rallying against the controversial industry, voicing concerns over the growing number of addicts appearing across the country.

Italy’s Health Minister Renato Balduzzi called gambling an illness and called for its addiction to be classified as a disease earlier in March. He decried its popularity and said “it would soon be considered, to all intents and purposes, a disease like in the US.”

In addition, the country’s Integration Minister Andrea Riccardi is lobbying for gambling advertising to be controlled by new regulations.

“We should be regulating advertisements and educating punters of the risks of compulsive gambling. Every player should be fully aware of the consequences of winning or losing a game,” he said on Italian TV last week.

In spite of the grinding recession and unemployment above 9 per cent, Italy’s gambling industry is booming. While large casinos and racetracks have been losing clients, internet betting has been going from strength to strength with Italian punters making up 23 per cent of the online market.

“This year alone 10 per cent of the average Italian family income will be spent on gambling and slot machines, not to mention foreign expenditure and illegal gambling, which is becoming more and more prevalent among the Italian youth,” said Carlo Pileri, President of Italy’s Consumers’ association.

With the Italian government lumbered with massive debt the income from the gambling industry has provided a relief to economic woes. Last year around 9 billion euro in taxes from the booming industry lined state coffers, about half of the total income.

The industry has blossomed during the economic downturn taking advantage of desperate people, using advertising campaigns to convince the public they have the answer to their financial difficulties.

“Marketing has become very aggressive and sells gambling as if lottery tickets were daily groceries. Commercials promise that it will help overcome financial difficulties,” Italian sociologist, Maurizio Fiasco told RT’s Ekaterina Gracheva.