It is a high stakes game, making billions, but it is also creating a generation of losers: Italy is opening 1,000 new gambling arcades.
"When we talk about gambling, obviously it is a very convenient alternative for a government that wants to collect revenues because gamblers do not even know they are paying a lot of taxes when they gamble. And taxes are paid on a voluntary basis, and this is a very good option for a government that is not willing to be blamed for raising taxes."
- Marco Spallone, Association of Gambling Industries
It is easy money for a government struggling with huge public debts. But support groups are worried the government is feeding a growing addiction.
Italians are some of the biggest gamblers in the world.
Italy has just one percent of the planet's population, but accounts for nearly a quarter of the global gaming market.
Last year, the gaming industry there enjoyed a turnover of some $24bn.
The odds have clearly favoured Italy since 2002, when that figure stood at $9bn.
And the government is hoping that market will get even bigger, with the opening of the new video-poker saloons.
But the number of pathologically addicted gamblers is also increasing.
Studies suggest there are around 17 million active gamblers in Italy - or around 28 percent of the population.
"I can understand the idea of a government wanting to try and create more gambling opportunities as revenue, but what they also need to know is there will be a proportion - even if that is a small proportion - of those who do gamble who will get into difficulties and when they do, those difficulties can be very severe and can also be an economic drain on a society anyway."
- Adrian Scarse, GamCare gambling suppport group
And there are concerns that up to 800,000 people may have more serious gambling problems.
The global gambling market is enormous, and set to hit half a trillion dollars. Asia is still the best bet, generating more than $145bn last year, but with a total turnover for 2012 at over $120bn, Europe is catching up; and Italy is leading the way.
So, what is Italy doing to counter the social cost of gambling?
To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Shiulie Ghosh, is joined by guests: Marco Spallone, a consultant to the Association of Gambling Industries in Italy, who is also a professor of economics at Luiss Guido Carli University; Adrian Scarse, the head of clinical training for GamCare, a support body for gambling addicts, who has set up the first gambling helpline of its kind in the UK; and Warwick Bartlett, the chief executive of Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, who works with governments and gambling operators on regulations and efficiency in the gambling industry.
ITALY'S GAMBLING INDUSTRY
- Italy's gaming industry has become highly lucrative in recent years
- The government has relaxed its once strict gambling laws
- In 2011 the government allowed so-called video-poker saloons
- Scratch card lotteries were legalised in Italy in 1994
- The average Italian loses around $500 a year from gambling
- Italy has fifth highest per capita spending on gambling in the world
- Italy is under pressure to boost state revenues to repay public debt
- Unemployment in Italy is the highest it has been in 13 years
- The global gambling market is set to hit half a trillion US dollars
- Asia's gambling market generated more than $145bn last year
- Gambling in Europe was worth over $120bn in 2012
- Casinos and lotteries generated the most revenue in 2012
Source: Al Jazeera