While much of the world has been hit by the recent economic downturn, the situation in Serbia is especially bleak. The national unemployment rate is at an astonishing 17 percent, and the average monthly salary of 400 euros, along with a seemingly constant weakening of the local currency, is driving many to turn to gambling to supplement their income.
Serbian gambling laws are very relaxed. Sports betting shops called “kladionica” can be found on street corners across the nation, and the country offers several major casinos. A lottery system is in place, and televised bingo games are becoming increasingly popular. The Serbian government receives hundreds of millions of euros annually in gambling taxes, and is happy to watch the industry expand, even if it means watching more Serbs become gambling addicts.
Today it is estimated that as many as 3.5 million Serbs are gamblers – that’s half of the country’s population. Lately, gambling has been on the rise, with players hoping to receive a boost to their monthly income by putting a bit of money down.
Dejan Stankovic, co-founder of the SOS Center designed to help gambling addicts, says that the advent of online gambling in Serbia has also contributed to the recent increase in gambling. Internet gambling lets players bet without having to leave their homes.
Stankovic feels strongly that the industry needs stricter regulation, especially online. The SOS Center advocates the proactive checking of player details before allowing them to place bets. His group also believes the government needs to be more responsible with its approach.
“In other European countries, between five and 30 percent of lottery or gambling profits are set aside for prevention,” he said. “Here, nothing.”