Saturday, February 20, 2016


This is a very short summary of a set of articles and conferences from 2010. The original material can be found (in Italian) here.

Once upon a time people used to play bingo socially or buy one lottery ticket, once a year. At a low cost you could dream to become a millionaire and at the end, when it didn’t turn out so, you were still fine. 
But something has changed. Gambling has become a compulsive obsession and the dream has turned into a nightmare. 
The frequency at which people gamble and the sums they play are reaching unprecedented levels. In Italy for instance, a country with one of the highest economic efforts toward gambling, for every 100 Euro of net income people spend about 10 on gambling, the same percentage spent on food. Ludopathy has been the addiction with the highest growth rate in the last 10 years, with symptoms like alienated individuals, devastated families and failed companies. 
Gambling, from a mathematical point of view, is never a fair game. The house always wins, and the player loses almost systematically. Gambling has been considered in the past as a tax on stupidity. Such cynical definition is turning more and more into a completely superficial one. The tendency to gamble indeed is known to be significantly higher among low income and low education social classes and to hit virulently the young and the elderly. Even considering gambling a voluntary tax one should acknowledge that it is a very regressive one, weighing on the weakest and less informed. But let for a moment ignore the regressive nature and wonder what is the real average tax return of the gambled gross amount. In Italy last year it didn’t reach the 10%. If instead of gambling Italians would go see a movie, buy a book, eat healthier or travel more the government would make three time as much, at least.
Of course prohibitionism wouldn’t work and could even worsen the situation. Governments nevertheless should try to progressively reduce the advertising of gambling, limit the damages and, especially, prevent them.  
Prevention is mostly achieved by education. Scientific culture is known to make a difference starting from numerical literacy. Scientific knowledge is not only necessary to build bridges, airplanes and mobile phones, it is a basic part of the civic education. Governments worldwide should invest more in scientific education, from elementary to graduate, and devote a sizeable percentage of gambling tax returns to promote and consolidate it.