Fears of Social Breakdown as Gambling Explodes in Italy


Fears of Social Breakdown as Gambling Explodes in Italy

by Elisabetta Povoledo
December 28, 2013
The New York Times

PAVIA, Italy — Renowned for its universities and a celebrated Renaissance monastery, this Lombardy town about 25 miles south of Milan has in recent years earned another, more dubious, distinction: the gambling capital of Italy.

Slot machines and video lottery terminals, known as V.L.T.s, can be found all over in coffee bars and tobacco shops, gas stations, mom-and-pop shops and shopping malls, not to mention 13 dedicated gambling halls. By some counts, there is one slot machine or V.L.T. for every 104 of the city’s 68,300 residents.

Critics blame the concentration of the machines for an increase in chronic gambling — and debt, bankruptcies, depression, domestic violence and broken homes — recorded by social service workers in Pavia.

But in many ways, Pavia is merely the most extreme example of the spread of gambling throughout Italy since lawmakers significantly relaxed regulation of the gambling industry a decade ago.

In that time, Italy has become the largest gambling market in Europe, and the fourth largest in the world after the United States, Japan and Macau, according to Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, which tracks gambling.

Now, some Italians, in Pavia and elsewhere, say they have had enough. In October, Lombardy became the sixth region to pass legislation intended to curb gambling and help addicts. Dozens of municipalities have also drafted measures to limit gambling, such as reducing opening hours.

The explosion of gambling “is devastating the territory,” said Simon Feder, a psychologist who founded a “no slot” protest movement in Pavia that aims to ban the machines from public spaces. “It is an anti-economy that impoverishes because it doesn’t spread money around, it just gobbles it up….”

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