Italy’s Legal Gambling gives Mafia a Boost

Once featuring strict gambling laws, Italy has loosened their stance on casino gaming over the past two decades in an effort to bring in more money and curb mafia activity. However, the country’s prosecutors now believe that widespread legal gambling is instead giving the mob more opportunities.

The key problem here is that rather than forcing the mafia above ground, it’s allowed them to launder more money through slot machines. Mobs then place these slot machines throughout bars and claim huge profits on them in order to hide revenue made from loansharking, drugs and extortion.

Prosecutors now believe that the mafia is turning their sights from using agriculture or trucking as a front, towards legal gambling. And this has helped organized crime spread from Italy’s poorer regions in the south towards the richer regions of the north. In turn, this has caused more damage to an economy that’s devolved into a recession.

One high-profile case that exemplifies this migration involves Francesco Valle and his family, who moved from Calabria (south) to Milan (north). 13 people in Valle’s clan were convicted of extortion, loansharking, money laundering and being members of a mafia clan in the country’s financial capital. Valle and his son, Fortunato, were given the longest sentences at 24 years a piece. Prosecutors detailed how the Valles used legal gaming to cover beating businessmen who owed them money and taking debtors’ property and real estate holdings.

Diana De Martino, a magistrate at the national anti-mafia prosecutors’ office, detailed the Valle’s rise to Reuters by saying, “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.”

Even still, it’s unlikely that Italy’s expanding legal gaming options will slow down any time soon. The cash-strapped country now sees gamblers wager $80 billion euros ($86 billion) a year (about 5 percent of gross national product). Going further, there are 400,000 slot machines in Italy, which is over twice what’s featured in America’s gaming capital of Nevada.

Many within the country see this as a sign that many addicts have been created from more gambling options. “I have met many in the industry who are aware of the fact that in Italy there are too many opportunities to gamble and so there is a widespread need to rein it in order to safeguard public health,” said Paolo Baretta, a government undersecretary.

So with the mafia growing and more perceived slots addicts, it’ll be interesting to see if Italy reigns in their gambling empire or continues to let it grow.