Italian shopkeepers launch legal challenge against slot machine bans

Italian shopkeepers are beginning to fight back against mayors who introduced controls on slot machines, which they claim are too restrictive and are costing them billions.

Italian shopkeepers launch legal challenge against slot machine bans
Photo: Lisa Brewster/Flickr

The Italian tobacconists' union has reported anti-gambling mayors to Italy's Court of Audit for loss of revenue. According to their estimates, restrictions on the machines – brought in in many towns in an attempt to tackle Italy's chronic gambling problem – will lead to a €2.5 billion loss across the country.

The first complaint was lodged in Lombardy against Bergamo mayor Giorgio Gori, the local Eco di Bergamo reported. In June, Gori passed a rule saying machines could not be within 500 metres of “sensitive institutions” such as schools, hospitals and churches.

Additionally, casinos in the area must be closed at certain times, between 7:30-9:30am, 12-2pm and 7-9pm.

Gori is not alone in bringing in restrictions on gambling, but the Bergamo rule is the only one which also applies to sporting bets and scratchcards, meaning local shopkeepers have been particularly hard hit.

Since the new rule came into force, tobacconists claim that scratchcards and games have seen drops of between 15 and 25 percent. In 2015, €284.7 million was brought in by the machines, providing €25.5 million in state revenue, and tobacconists estimate that the new rules will see them losing €7.6 million each year.

The Bergamo hearing has been scheduled for February 2017, and similar disputes have opened up across the country, including in Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto, according to Il Secolo XIX. Meanwhile, Rome mayor Virginia Raggi announced last week that she planned to make the city's historic centre “off limits” to the games.

Tobacconists argue that their “freedom of economic initiative in a legal sector” has been infringed by the bans, and claim that such restrictions should only be put in place by national, not regional, authorities.  

Of the 53,000 tobacconists across the country, 35,000 hold licences for gambling.

But Italy's government is determined to tackle the national gambling habit – despite the fact it brings in large sums to the state coffers.

A government report in October 2015 suggested as many as 1.3 million Italians are problem gamblers – but revealed that only 12,000 people were under treatment for addiction.

In early September this year, PM Matteo Renzi announced a plan to limit slot machines in Italy, including the complete removal of the machines from restaurants, hotels, beach resorts and shops, with a significant reduction in their number in bars and newsagents. The plan also included a reduction of hours during which machines can be operated and better regulation of casinos.

And over the summer, the town of Anacapri on the southern island of Capri became the first to completely outlaw slot machines after a referendum of the 6,000 islanders. Similar appeals had previously failed in the northern cities Bologna and Bergamo.

At the time, the mayor told The Local he hoped the move would persuade other towns to follow suit.

However, a volunteer with Gamblers Anonymous said that while outlawing machines in the town was a good start and might help prevent children getting involved, “compulsive gamblers will continue to find a way and can continue to buy scratchcards, bet online and place bets on sport.”

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