Italians are among the world’s biggest gamblers, but now kids have also started to play casino games for money.
Studies show that Italians spend an average of $400 per person on gambling every year. This figure might not say much to you, but in reality it makes them some of the biggest gamblers in the world. In fact, the Italian gambling market is the fifth largest in the world, just behind Hong Kong.
A recent survey shows that even minors have started to pick up the habit, with almost half of those questioned admitting to placing the occasional bet. Italy’s Children’s Commissioner has released a report showing that 8% of young people participating in the survey said they gamble regularly, to “have money to spend”. Some of them are as young as 14.
Kids exposed to gambling
Popular online gambling sites in Italy:
Critics say Italian gambling laws are too permissive and blame authorities for allowing things to get out of hand. If so many minors admit that playing casino games has become a habit for them, officials are clearly missing something.
And it’s not about an innocent game of cards either. Out of all the children and teenagers surveyed, 44% said they have played slot machines at least once.
Another 8% admitted to playing casino games at least once a month, adding that they learned about gambling from TV commercials, or from shops and bars that have slot machines and are located close to their homes or schools.
One of the persons interviewed said: “It’s everywhere… in adverts, in films, in game rooms, in bars, on social networks. All you need is a simple mobile phone to access the centers stealing money.”
Why minors gamble
When asked why they choose to gamble, 22% of interviewees said playing casino games made them feel “bigger”; 10% admitted they were aware of the rules, but said it felt good to break them; 9% said gambling was a pastime for them, something to chase away the boredom.
But those who admitted to gambling more often or on a regular basis claimed they were attracted by the idea of making some easy money.
“You can go out of your mind, it’s like a drug, once you start you can’t stop,” someone told the surveyors.
According to psychologist Mauro Croce, who works for an anti-gambling charity, the increase in the number of young Italians gambling could also be caused by a feeling of hopelessness which came with the economic crisis. Teenagers don’t have high expectations from the future, so they turn to gambling and hope that this will solve their financial issues.
However, the expert said, the main reason why more and more minors play casino games is because there of the proliferation of “opportunities to gamble” over the last 20 years.
Gambling industry growing
Between 2001 and 2012, gambling revenue has more than quadrupled – from $5.6 billion to $22.4 billion – and legalizing online casinos in Italy have certainly contributed to this growth.
“There is definitely still a strong phenomenon of gambling in Italy,” Croce told Italian reporters. Since the 1990s, when laws became more permissive, the number of players has constantly grown, along with the profits made by casinos and websites.
“It’s especially worse for young people nowadays – because it’s everywhere. Apart from being able to play a slot machine in a bar or buy a scratch-card in a tobacconist, they’re exposed to advertising on Facebook or can play games on their smartphones.”
The psychologist believes that TV adverts play an important role in the increasing popularity of gambling in Italy. Unfortunately, he added, these commercials “prey on vulnerable Italians with little money”. Just like casino games are more common among minors, the number of women gamblers has also increased over the past few years.
“Women tend to gamble for escapism,” the expert explained. “Again, it’s so easy: they can play a slot machine while at the supermarket or paying a bill at the tobacconist. Whereas Italian men gamble for bravado and to feel more manly.”
Gambling – a part of Italian culture
Simone Feder, a psychologist who founded the “No slot” movement that fought to have slot machines removed from public spaces, has a different view on gambling. He believes that many young people consider casino games to be “part of Italian culture.”
Feder has taken his campaign to schools, and knows a great deal about the phenomenon. He said the number of young gamblers has increased over the past years, and added that some of them spend EUR 5 to 10.
“They see it as the normal thing to do, they learn their family’s habits and culture. The most worrying thing is they don’t see the danger,” he said.
According to the psychologist, approximately 800,000 Italians suffer from gambling addiction. Many of them are “hooked” on slot machines, which are not restricted to casinos, but can also be found in bars and even at airports. Feder sais these were the “biggest curse” and added: “They are made only to create dependency.”