Gambling in Italy has a long and colorful history. The government is consistently trying to ban it for centuries. Despite the state’s efforts to put a stop to gambling, this human activity has flourished in Italy, and there are numerous records of people engaging in gambling of some type. Possibly one of the best known examples is how soldiers cast lots for the clothing of Jesus Christ after he was crucified.

The Journey to Legalization

Although people in Italy never stopped gambling, for the longest time this was always conducted without the cloak of legality. In 539, Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire banned gambling regardless of whether it is conducted in public or private places. Five years later, to give the law more force, Justinian declared that if caught gambling, clerics would be suspended and punished. In 818, Louis the Pious added the weight of his authority as Holy Roman Emperor and announced that any clergy caught gambling would receive a three-year suspension from office.

Greater leniency would be accorded to gambling in 1638 when the Great Council of the Venetian Republic opened the Ridotto, a state-sanctioned gambling house open to the public. The establishment of the Ridotto can be considered a birthing for the casino industry in Italy. Although it was not called a casino, the Ridotto was known as Europe’s first gambling house, and it provided the gentry a regulated place where they could openly gamble. In 1770, however, the local government closed the Ridotto because it was seen as an establishment that impoverished the gentry.

Such stringent laws against gambling were circumvented by the provision in Italian law that while games of luck were prohibited, games which used a player’s skills were in a different category. Into this category came sports betting, lotteries, and similar activities. This provision has served as the open sesame for gambling to become a major industry in Italy.

Gambling in Italy Today

The Italian government began to see gambling as a possible source of tax revenue. Along this line, it came up with more laws to liberalize gambling, provided that these complied with regulations in 2006 and 2007. Italy was also opened up to gambling operators from EU and the European Free Trade Association. At present, gambling licenses are granted solely by the Amministrazione Autonoma dei Monopoli di Stato (AAMS).

Despite the fact that Italy still has very few casinos, gambling thrives in the country. Italy now has an abundance of slot machines, video betting games and bingo parlors. Gambling has become so widespread there is one slot machine for every 150 residents, and scratch-card lotteries are available just about everywhere. In 2008, gambling brought in more than $8 billion in tax revenues.

Gambling in Italy: Boon or Bane?

Critics, such as the Coordinamento Nazionale Gruppi Per Giocatori d’Azzardo and Liberia, both look at gambling as more of a bane than a boon to Italian society. For one thing, organized crime has moved into the scene, buying into legal gambling ventures. For another, although the government has earned tax revenues from gambling, the growth of this income does not seem to be at par with the expansion of gambling in the country.

More importantly, the social cost of gambling is evident in the estimated 700,000 Italians addicted to gambling. This addiction brings with it debt, depression, bankruptcy, domestic violence, and the breaking up of families. From this perspective, gambling in Italy is seen to have caused more financial problems than it has solved.