More recession-hit Italians turn to gambling

Bet-placing establishments up over 30%

More recession-hit Italians turn to gambling

(By Christopher Livesay) Milan, August 21 - Gambling continues to rise in recession-hit Italy, according to a new report from the Milan chamber of commerce. So far in 2013, some 9,300 businesses offer gambling of some kind, up 32.1% on the year. The number of registered gambling devices are up 91.2% since 2012, while the number of establishments with slot machines have nearly doubled. The area where gambling is growing the fastest is the northern Emilia-Romagna region, followed by the central Marche region. The northern Lombardy region leads the country in overall gambling businesses with 1,342, 14.5% of the Italian total, up 43.4% on the year. Second is the southern Campania region followed by the central Lazio region around Rome, which is the city with the greatest number gambling outlets. The rise in gambling is widely associated with Italy's crippling recession and rising unemployment rate. Studies released late last year by trade union confederation CGIL showed a 691% jump between 2005 and 2010 in the number of people seeking professional help to deal with gambling addictions. A report last year from Italy's Catholic social-service group CEIS found that gambling is Italy's third-largest industry, earning 47.5 billion euros in revenue in 2008. Its study found that 47% of Italy's poor and 66% of the unemployed are known to gamble. The study also showed that 47% of youth aged 15-24 have played video poker and slot machines. Online betting, which tripled in 2011, is growing the fastest, as gamblers spent 1.5 billion euros on the Internet last year. Gambling revenue in Italy was up 28.8% to 23.2 billion in the first quarter of 2012. The government takes a hefty cut of revenue from gambling establishments, while most illegal betting is run by the mafia. In June, police arrested 55 suspected mobsters and seized nearly half a billion euros in assets across Italy in their biggest crackdown in years on the infamous Casalesi gang, whose most lucrative ventures, police said, were the illegal distribution of slot machines, collecting sports bets and online gambling. Police in the raid uncovered a number of sites used to manage online gambling with servers located abroad in places such as Romania. Authorities said that all of the gambling outfits in the sweep were not necessarily corrupt to begin with. "All of a sudden you notice companies in the area that were once in the hands of honest entrepreneurs that have now ended up in the hands of organized crime," said prosecutor Giovanni Colangelo.

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