When Italy legalized gambling, the hope was to get the mafia out of the picture. However, the mafia is the mafia, and has found ways to increase its presence through various gambling enterprises. The Italian government has grown desperate for any form of revenue, and Italians now pump roughly billion a year into gambling, or roughly 5 percent of GDP.
The 400,000 slot machines in the country are twice as much as Nevada, and are found in most espresso bars. The hope was that be legalizing a business run by the mob it would drive out an industry in which they thrived, but has backfired in the government’s face, offering a way for them to run a cash-only business to earn and launder money.
“They started out with a few (slot) machines in three or four bars. In the space of three or four years they had created an empire,” Diana De Martino, magistrate at the national anti-mafia prosecutors’ office said. The defendants admitted to a few of the crimes, but deny all accusations of being in an organized crime ring.
“Prohibition creates a bigger criminal market, not a smaller one,” said Massimo Passamonti, president of Italy’s main gambling lobby. He went on to say 25,000 people are directly employed in gambling as well. “We realized the excessive supply (of slot machines) was having a negative impact on society and could turn everyone against us,” Passamonti said.
Psychologist Simone Feder says of the 15 million regular gamblers in Italy, 800,000 are addicts. He has also formed an anti-gambling movement called the “No Slot Movement.” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is currently working on restrictions to reduce the number of slot machines by a quarter.