As Italians suffer the effects of the European financial crisis, gambling is becoming more and more popular, with slot and video poker machines popping up in arcades and coffee bars across the country and scratch-card lotteries available at shops, gas stations and street kiosks.
Reports are that problem gambling is reaching epidemic proportions as well.
“Italy is becoming the Wild West of gambling nations,” Matteo Iori, the president of Coordinamento Nazionale Gruppi Per Giocatori d’Azzardo, an umbrella organization that help gambling addicts, told The Daily Beast. “Because Italians are burdened with an economic crisis, that has paradoxically stimulated many to seek fortune to escape the economic difficulty.”
It is estimated there is one slot machine for every 150 citizens, and the number is growing, thanks to a law passed by Silvio Berlusconi’s government in 2010 that permits the awarding of another 1,000 video poker licenses.
Problem gambling advocates are trying to stop the licenses from being issued, but government has much to gain by expanding the gambling industry, which paid more than US$8 billion in taxes in 2012. Gambling revenues have increased 25 percent the last three years to $120 billion.
Italians are the biggest gamblers per capita in the world after Singaporeans and Australians, according to a recent study. It is also estimated that more than 800,000 have a serious gambling problem.