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 A Social Sciences approach Against Gambling Addiction [PDF intero art.]

Annick Magnier

Massimo Morisi

Alessio Gori

Marcello Cabria


 From the Green Paper of 2011, passing through the Action Plan “Towards a comprehensive European framework for online gambling" of October 2012, till the Recommendation of July 14, 2014, and the corresponding activities that followed (for ex. the seminar of May 5, 2015), the European Commission has repeatedly denounced the addiction caused by on line gambling as a problematic “social fact”. In this last document, the Commission invites European Governments to adopt measures oriented to limit the potential risks related to this type of gambling, especially in order to protect children and adolescents, defining as well some possible lines of public intervention (in the direction of regulation, victims assistance, and on site prevention).

In these documents the revenues of the gambling sector in Europe are estimated around 80 billions. “The gambling sector is a growing market, both land based and online. In 2011, the annual revenues generated by the gambling service sector, measured on the basis of Gross Gaming Revenues (GGR) (i.e. stakes less prizes but including bonuses), were estimated to be €84.9 billion (EU 27), with an average annual growth rate of 2.8%. Online gambling services accounted for annual revenues in excess of €9.3 billion, 10.9% of the overall gambling market. The average annual growth rate for online gambling services is 14.7%. In 2015 online gambling is estimated to generate annual revenues of €13.0 billion, 14.2% of the overall gambling market” [Commission Staff working Document, “Online gambling in the Internal Market”, 2012].

Available data from Italy, produced by one of the main professional associations of gaming services (SAPAR, Conferenza Stampa Rimini, March 18, 2015), offer for 2013 an impressive figure of 85,6 billions of stakes for the whole sector (on-line gaming excluded), 12 billions of prizes and a GGR of approximately 17 billions. The evident dimension of the national market emerged by this study, and the presumable incongruence with the European reference data, indicates the Italian context as emblematic of the emergence of gambling as a social practice and the correlated gambling addiction as a growing social problem. At the same time these numbers point to the necessity of defining coordinated models of governance adapted to the challenge and the specific context in which it has to be faced.

According to the EC Recommendation, Italy is redefining its legislation, not merely on on-line gambling but on the whole sector of “public gaming”, with a new law “Delega fiscale” which should be approved before autumn. In this legislative project, the competent National Ministry will dedicate 250 millions euro to sustain actions for the prevention of gambling addiction. Nevertheless, no exhaustive model of intervention has yet been defined, with regard neither to the organizational aspects nor to the main directions that the preventive action should privilege.

In this background SSAGA projects intends to propose models of governance of gambling addiction adapted to a national context which can be interpreted as particularly problematic:

1)  The phenomenon is particularly intense and rapidly increasing (“Il rischio e la regola” Florence, April 13, on line). All around the Italian territory it is possible to accede to different kinds of game in 114.614 places.

2)   The reform, which will change the setting of public policies on gaming, national and local, and the important investment that the Italian government is prepared to engage in, it is forced not to compromise, in a moment of budget strain, the consistent tax levy originating from the sector, corresponding to 2,7% of the total national budget.

3)  There is no specific regulatory agency to offer the organizational basis for a national policy.


4)  A coordinated action between the different levels of government is uneasy to introduce: the population ask the local governments for measures to control the phenomenon, while the local administrations do not dispose of an adequate organization to address the problem. In fact, no public service has been until now dedicated to similar addictions and the associations among pathological gambling victims are organizing slowly.

5)   Gaming businessmen organizations unanimously intend to underline the ethic sustainability of their activity, through the support of regulations oriented to spread a more responsible gaming practice (for example, one of the main organizations, SAPAR, made an agreement with the National Association of Municipalities and with University teams for the training of the owners of gaming sites). Nevertheless, they are numerous and diverse in their requests to the public sector. Besides the public owned companies, the private business constitute a highly fragmented world: few owners of gaming networks (13), but 5000 new- slot owners, 719 VLT terminal owners, 3450 producers and importers of gaming machines, cards….

Italy today may constitute a particularly useful laboratory for an innovative coordinated action oriented to the gambling addiction prevention. Here, proposals of new models of governance and principles of public action can be elaborated, and then adapted to other similar situations, characterized by a low degree of coordination between the actors involved and a relatively recent social acknowledgment of the problems related to gambling. Such innovative action must be sustained through a systematic transfer of knowledge from the social sciences to a large range of decision-makers and stakeholders. Starting from this specific

context, and two other national contexts similarly characterized by high fragmentation of the stakeholders and strong requests of public policies definition, SSAGA project will valorize the possible contribution of social sciences to the definition and implementation of preventing measures aiming at controlling the different types of gambling addiction; giving evidence to the acquired knowledge in Social Sciences on game behavior and its relationship to hazard and to its utility for improving policies; delineating further areas of research- action, in which social scientists, physicians, administrators, business and civil society representatives may cooperate; experiencing institutionalized cooperation for prevention between experts of different disciplines, businessmen and decision-makers.

From several decades European societies are characterized by a process of progressive erosion of the individual’s certainties, on both the values and the economical level. Concepts such as work, welfare state, social stability and a general perspective of future security, have been replaced by a growing existential uncertainty. A concept by now deeply connected to people’s lives has progressively gained centrality in the social and economic system: the concept of risk (Beck, Giddens).

The idea of risk has thus become so meaningful in the current context to be seen not just from a negative perspective: it has also acquired some positive connotations and a substantial centrality in the system. This is the case, for example, of the financial market, the heart of the current capitalist system, which is based and built on the concept of risk and on the ability of the individual investors to dare, leveraging their own resources to create wealth for themselves and for others. In this particular context, furthermore, over the years we have witnessed a gradual extension and transformation of the concept: the risk in business has gone through the “positive speculation” for moving to effective gambling. As is evidenced by the recent financial crisis, the operators in the current financial market have nowadays forsaken any reference to the fundamentals of real economy, to follow standards of behavior typical of gambling itself. The concepts of risk and hazard, in this sense, have acquired over the years a symbolic role, full of significance for the whole society.

It does not appear fortuitous, therefore, the fact that in recent years we have witnessed an exponential growth of another industry that puts the risk as its benchmark: the gambling, which has now assumed a presence in the social and economic system that goes beyond that of pure entertainment. This sector, in fact, has experienced in the recent decades a historically unprecedented growth, characterized by the progressive liberalization of the sector and by the proliferation of any kind of game on every available platform. Video lotteries, video poker, slot machines, websites, television programs , sports betting, have become not only the privileged products by the Casinos in the world, they are by now stable elements of our daily lives and of the world surrounding us. The turnover that drives that industry is impressive, making the fortune of whole states which decide to become gambling’s fiscal paradises.

In fact, gambling is not only the center of the interests of entrepreneurs and casinos of any kind, but it is promoted and managed directly by the States, and represents nowadays an important economic income for the public finances. Over the years, the relationship between gambling and public regulation has passed several stages, in which the single governments have decided to address the issue in different ways. From the game as a social and popular phenomenon, passing through a period of strict prohibition, then, since the sixties, a period of progressive legalization and regulation of the sector, up to the present time, in which gambling is explicitly promoted and advertised by the states. Gambling, in this sense, has become the tangible manifestation of a new role of the states, and the state-gambling relationship is now also paradigmatic of a new state-citizen relationship.

The gambling is usually accompanied by a massive advertising campaign that paints its character of entertainment and pleasure in a captivating way, making it a symbol of fun and freedom, when not even a possibility of enrichment and an easy way for social growth. This has created the now predominant couple "gambling-gaming". Individual States have realized the huge economic potential of gambling and have gradually turned it into an important voice of their budgets and in a form of voluntary self-taxation of citizens. Since the Eighties, therefore, the State not only has taken note of its inability to take care and to accompany its citizens in their social life, and has accordingly proceeded with the progressive dismantling of the social welfare systems, but it has become itself a promoter and entrepreneur of the risk.

Furthermore, despite the decisive role in the public sector, it is impressive to note that the representation of the risks inherent the gaming industry are often completely neglected in the everyday communicative presence: in the massive and pervasive advertising campaign accompanying the gambling’s field, gambling is characterized essentially by a positive social representation. The current system addresses and proposes gambling in the society as a pure entertainment and social pleasure, a pleasant distraction from the daily routine, omitting almost entirely the disclosure of the real risks associated with this "product". This, despite the fact that, from several years, the medical sciences, psychology and psychiatry in particular, have introduced the concepts of “problematic gambling” and “pathological gambling”. The methodical practice of gambling, in fact, can be the engine of dangerous phenomena for the individual who, in presence of certain individual and social "risk factors", risks to enter into a spiral of dependency and loss of lucidity, which can lead him to his economic ruin and personal annihilation. For this reason, the only strong binomial socially advertised cannot be just the “gambling-gaming”, it is necessary instead to consider also the “gambling- deviance” aspects.

The current choice on the issues related to gambling and its potential risks is to depoliticize the problem, to remove the social value of the phenomenon and to reduce it into a purely individual question, relying on the model of the "responsible player." The public response to the institutionalization of risk by the States and to the problems inherent to it, therefore, relies on individual responsibility: the State places entirely on the shoulders of the citizen the management of the problematics related to the phenomenon of gambling,

counting on the ability of self-management and self-control of individual. In this context, the State creates a legislative framework to the sector, consisting of rules and controllers that can manage and set up the rules of the game. Here, again, appears a significant parallelism with the financial markets: the States establish a context that suggests to the citizen-userinvestor the existence of “safe investment” as well as that of “safe gambling”. Two contradictions in terms that prove often to be counterproductive, instilling in the individual a false sense of security and control that in practice cannot be really guaranteed by the public system: a real trap.

In the recent decades we have witnessed to a proliferation of the phenomenon without precedent. It is difficult if not impossible to predict what will be the actual consequences of such proliferation of the institutionalized gambling, especially among the younger generation that will grow up surrounded by that social and cultural context. For this reason, it is necessary to deepen the understanding of the phenomenon, not only on the medical level, that brings the idea of a therapeutic intervention on the disease, but rather from a sociological and multifactorial point of view. We must make the effort to fully understand the complex dynamics that can lead to the most problematic aspects related to the practice of gambling, without falling at the same time into an easy and useless moralism. The study should primarily ask for the broader comprehension of the phenomenon, with the aim of a practical implementation of the necessary prevention practices, oriented to limit the growing and problematic social impacts of pathological gambling.

SSAGA main objectives are consequently:


1.  To foster the clear collective identification of the impact of Social Sciences research in the knowledge of the phenomenon: that is to say of the social, cultural, economic and territorial variables which facilitates its development, on one side, of the social conditions for the definition and implementation of more effective policies, on the other side. To collect and to make available in a systematic presentation, public and associative data, and significant description of best practices involving social scientists (translated in English is one of the first commitment of the partners);

  1. To enrich this same scientific contribution of social sciences disciplines developing a European interdisciplinary context open to practitioners;

3.  To valorize this same scientific contribution through the participative democratic processes involving in selected local contexts a large range of public and private stakeholders;

4.  To create on the basis of these experiences an experimental cross platform, in which social scientists will collaborate with a large range of economic and social actors involved in the world of gaming and in the institutions responsible of its control and of the treatment of the corresponding pathologies;

  1. To promote a large dissemination and sharing of the results of these activities work beyond the usual academic community, in the large set of professional communicative channels interested in gambling and addiction, in order to make the experiences easily replicable in different contexts ;

6.  To put the basis for similar long-term platforms offering possibilities of permanent exchange between SSH research in the field and European decision.-makers and practitioners in the  field.

ultimo aggiornamento: 20-Gen-2016
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