The Slovenia Times

Keeping it under control



Remember Martin Scorsese's Casino? His unique insight into a mob-run casino before the FBI made its grand purge ended with a somehow nostalgic scene of what gambling has become since it had lost its sense of adventurism and turned into something represented by a bunch of grannies feeding the slot machines. This giant lottery nowadays basically redistributes tons of cash on the basis of a sheer luck and takes something for itself, and of course, for the state, always hungry for tax money. Slovenia opened its first casino in 1964. Forty years later, the gambling industry employs 2500 people and contributes over a quarter of all Slovenian tourism income. The state budget earns approximately EUR 90m out of gambling. Nova Gorica, a "New" town near the Italian border takes 70 percent of all gambling business and is therefore a great example of how gambling can influence the environment. This year, detailed research was made by experts in Ljubljana's faculty of economics to find correlations within this issue. In theory, the American and European concepts of gambling are a bit different: European, "Monte Carlo"-style gaming salons are based strictly on gambling games such as roulette and card games, meant more for rich people. American casinos on the other hand take some elements of theme parks and dancing clubs offering entertainment to nearly all social classes with the addition of many other attractions and performances outside pure gambling. The average visitor of the gaming salon spent EUR 102 in 2004, while the US-style casinos took an average of EUR 50 from its guest. Nova Gorica with its two gaming salons started to move towards the American version at the beginning of the 1990s. The expansion that followed was created by Hit, a company which nowadays is successful in the entertainment business and also one of the biggest taxpayers. When it comes to a question of benefits of gambling for the local environment, there seems no doubt the industry contributes to the welfare of the town. Both opinion and figures show that unemployment is lower and salaries are relatively high - at this point Nova Gorica comes right after the capital city. Furthermore, the gambling industry seems to have induced development in other branches and provides business for them. Taxes coming from gambling are undoubtedly good for anything related to the town's infrastructure, however the inhabitants asked in the research (a sample of 250) keep doubting the money is spent usefully. Gambling has its dark side as well, which is generally likened to all sorts of crime, caused by gambling addiction. Local officials agree that gambling brought along more violence, prostitution and drugs, while the "common" people, on the contrary, do not see a rise in offences. Factual statistics, however, show that actually very few severe crime acts happen in Nova Gorica compared to similar environments, but there truly are more acts linked to drugs, what experts explain more with the vicinity of state border than by the presence of casinos. Another supposition is that gambling degrades values and increases family break-ups. Various civil servants again agreed to that hypothesis. Family life is, according to them, endangered because of different work schedules. Statistics prove more divorces, but they again don't differ from the Slovenian average. The addiction Gambling can be an occasional, experimental and social act, bringing no dramatic consequences. But the more gambling opportunities there are, the more gambling addictions appear in any society. It is no wonder therefore that out-of-control gamblers become a reality, which someone has to face - from his or her family or society as a whole. This obsessive-compulsive behaviour is recognised far earlier by others than by the gambler himself. It certainly does not mean that the addict wouldn't know about his or her obsession, but what is certain - they cannot resist it. The irrational passion for gambling appears also with other disturbances, like anxiety. It is a consequence of facing the irresistible need to gamble, usually along with the problem of getting the money for it. The obsessed gambler becomes unable to fulfill social duties, and persists gambling when the consequences are already obvious and often have to resort to lying and crime, not to mention becoming alienated from family. Gambling obsession often occurs in a period of personal crisis or serves as a getaway from feelings of guilt. The development of such addiction normally starts with winning, which invokes great expectations, followed by a phase of losing, ending with greater debts and desperation when an individual seriously compromises his integrity. The most efficient cures so far are therapy groups and psychiatric help. The typical story of a Slovenian gambling addict starts with an overwhelming interest in the game and initial success, turning into a sort of adrenaline addiction. The stakes get higher and higher. All the daily activities get focused into getting money for the dice. Night hours in the casino pass like a shot. When the gambler's own sources get exhausted, first a negative bank account appears, then it is necessary to make a debt somehow. The Mafia, which charges big interests is here to "help" and casino staff, of course, never asks where the money comes from. "Casinos claim, they forbid entrance to those, who have obviously hit the bottom, but I don't believe them. They also shouldn't lend money, but they do, but only to those who are surely able to return it," confessed one of the former addicts to Mladina magazine. One of his tactics to find the way out was to ask all casinos to forbid him to enter. The article in the weekly also estimated 300 addicts in Nova Gorica and even more in Ljubljana. Their fate is similar - broken families, sold property to repay the debts and prosecutions. In Slovenia there is no special institution to deal with this addiction. A therapy group exists within Ljubljana's psychiatric clinic. Dr Jasmina Una Trumpej, who is examining the problem, claims that the number of group attendants itself is not that great. What is more concerning is the more than thirty of phone calls from addicts each month. This is far more alarming, revealing that people are actually afraid or ashamed to come to the clinic. Gambling, however is not only casino, but also various lotteries. In this aspect, 15-20 percent of the population of Slovenia belongs to regular gamblers, meaning they attend a fortune game at least once per month, and up to 50 percent play them occasionally.


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