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Mafia thrives on Italy's legalized gambling addiction

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 01:40

Rome police crack down on mafia earnings from video slot machines, which have become an attractive way for mafia groups to earn money. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

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ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: Italian Finance Police are fighting an underground battle to try and cut down on the earnings mafia groups make from slot machines. Long known as the home to some of the world's most fearsome organised crime groups, Italy has more recently become Europe's biggest regulated gambling market and video slot machines have become an attractive new way for mafia groups to earn money. Italy has some 400,000 slot machines, more than twice as many as the state of Nevada, and the third most in the world after Japan and the U.S., according to data compiled annually by Australia's main slot lobby. Gambling revenue totaled 80 billion euros ($85 billion) last year, according to the betting regulator, or 5 percent of Italy's annual income. Governments progressively legalised gambling over more than two decades as growth sputtered and they needed to raise tax revenue. They argued that it would hurt the traditional mafias by robbing them of a huge illegal gambling market. But the country's estimated 15 million regular gamblers do not play in large, Las Vegas-style casinos. They sidle up to machines placed mostly in local coffee bars, which Italians visit several times a day for a steaming shot of espresso or a pre-dinner cocktail. And these are the type of venues where the Italian Finance Police are cracking down on any tax evasion. Though tax revenue from gambling tops 8 billion euros per year, more than half of which comes from slots, critics say that instead of eradicating a criminal market and striking a blow against crime, the state has created an attractive new way for the mafia to earn money. Finance Police Major Filippo D'Albore said that legalisation brought about regulation that protects players from being cheated but that the sector became very attractive to the mafia. "The gambling sector provides four per cent of Italy's GDP and so it's obvious that organized crime (the mafia) have a huge interest," said D'Albore. "The finance police have two different ways to combat this, our activity is to control the concession owners' licence papers and their tax payments, to make sure they are working legally," D'Albore added. Finance policemen enter bars unannounced and run checks on individual slot machines by connecting up a laptop. "Our officers are able to read the data from every single slot machine during their inspections, so we can check if there have been tax evasions," explained D'Albore. Major D' Albore also said it is common for criminal organisations to doctor machines, disconnecting them from a central server to evade taxes and fixing them to payout less than the law requires. According to a study based on 2012 data conducted by Italy's anti-usury body, machine owners are estimated to have evaded about as many taxes that were paid that year. "This portable computer has the so-called scams programme that is used to read the machines," said Finance Policeman D'Addio. "It tells us how much money has been entered and how much has been won," he explained. Thousands of controls on machines are carried out regularly by police but tax evasion is still a huge problem. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's government is considering introducing restrictions on where slot machines can be placed -- a move officials say should lower the number by 100,000. A draft law is being debated. Up until a legislation change it will be down to the finance police to continue their job of monitoring slot machines in order for the money to go into the pockets of the state rather than those of organised crime.

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Mafia thrives on Italy's legalized gambling addiction

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 01:40