For centuries Pavia was known as “Oxford on Ticino” because of its prestigious universities. However, in 2013 that reputation changed when the city was identified as Italy’s “capital of gambling”. This historic city now has a video or slot gambling machine for every 104 inhabitants, earning its nickname in the local media; “the Italian Las Vegas”.
After seeing a huge number of residents “burning their entire salary” on playing slot games, a grassroots movement called SenzaSlot (“without slot machines”) is fighting the city’s addiction.
Following the national governments removal of restrictions in the mid-2000s, gaming machines started to spread through the city’s bars and cafes. Residents now found themselves stumbling into a gambling opportunity every time they bought a cappuccino. By 2013 Pavia had the highest per capita spending on gambling in Italy: €1,600 a year.
Fixing The Problem
So how did this group of residents go about changing Pavia’s gambling landscape? Firstly, SenzaSlot set up a website, mapping out the few bars and cafes free from slot machines. Today they’ve gone further, offering gambling-free bars with window stickers to highlight their lack of machines. They also run events, informing residents, especially schoolchildren, about the dangers of gambling.
SenzaSlot offers legal support to business owners wanting to remove slot machines from their premises. This process can be very tricky. Not only will the business have to contend with a loss of income (around €500 to €750 a month per machine), they are also likely to incur a penalty (typically around €8,000 per machine) for breaking a contract.
Bar and Café Owners Hold The Power
Riccardo Bernasconi is the owner of Sottovento, a slot-free snack bar. He says, “If you hold a pair of slot machines in your bar, they bring you €1,000 to €1,500 each month, which allows many to pay the rent”. It’s easy to see the appeal from a financial standpoint, however, Bernasconi has vowed never to host gaming machines, because most of his customers are students and he feels that many are too young to understand the dangers.
However, it’s often not as easy to say goodbye once you are hosting a machine. The century-old Bar Italia, owned by Matteo Tacchinardi, has had gaming machines for more than a decade. Although Tacchinardi has considered throwing out the machines, he says he simply can’t afford it. Despite this, he says it upsets him to see his customers “throwing away their money”.
SenzaSlot movement has paved the way for change, highlighting the issue and starting to tackle it. The activist movement even has the local authorities on its side. In an effort to reduce machine use by vulnerable groups, former mayor, Massimo Depaoli, introduced time restrictions on the machines. Thanks to a new rule introduced by the city council, businesses are forbidden from opening new slot machines within 500 metres of a school, church or retirement community. Depaoli says that because Pavia is such a small city, it’s hard to find places that don’t fall in the restricted areas.
These policies seem to be having an effect, as by the end of last year, the per capita spend down 25% to €1,200.