Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

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Borders overheating

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Our team has been working on pin-pointing the ‘gambling heat’ around the world: for example, which are the most studied field sites, which academic centres produce most knowledge on gambling and where most gambling conferences take place. The term heat indicates something fairly simple: where the gambling action is. And by this, we mean both the production and consumption of gambling as well as the ‘thinking’ about it.

Three ‘heated’ places, for anyone following the news on gambling, would be Las Vegas, Nova Gorica (Slovenian gambling Mecca but also dubbed ‘European Las Vegas) and from recently Macau. Both in the language of natural sciences and, metaphorically, in the social sciences as well, heat easily moves around, ripples out and affects the surrounding area. Gambling heat is no different: it is ever-changing and it changes the environment from which it emerges. On a map, it would show in red circles around certain areas, but it would also change over time.

As I was exploring the visual representation of gambling heat in the former Yugoslavia (the case study I am working on), I noticed the following: the places with gambling heat now were heated in other ways a few decades ago. These were the borders: national and legislative in particular.


Gambling heat in the region of ex-Yugoslavia

Nova Gorica, a small town on the border between Slovenia and Italy used to be a heated place of dispute over the national borders after the WW2. Through the international arbitrage, the socialist Yugoslavia lost claim to the area in which the leading economic centre was Gorizia, now an Italian town. Its sister settlement – Nova (new) Gorica was built right on the border as a statement of perseverance. The border between these two towns was until 1989 the border between the West and the East. Any flow of people and goods was strictly monitored and controlled. It was the kind of border with barbed wires and an empty strip in-between, where many Yugoslavs were prevented from leaving their country.

And today, this very border is enabling the flow of Italian customers into Slovenian casinos. With the fall of socialism and Slovenia joining the EU, the border, it is said, is no more. Yet, the differences in fiscal and gambling regulation between Slovenia and Italy at once make and unmake it. The money and people travel freely but the motivation to do so stems from the regulatory boundary between the two countries.

The heat spreads further, and it retraces its own steps. If once Yugoslavia was turning up the heat at its international borders, committed to protect itself from ‘evil’ outside enemies, now the same areas are hot from the amount of people and money travelling across. The old-new hot border is between FYRM and Greece, a small town of Gevgelija where two large casinos attract Greek gamblers.

The seasons may change but the climate remains fairly constant…


Written by Andrea Pisac

June 14, 2013 at 1:49 pm

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Are the Borders Falling Down?

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In a recent article in FT, Guy Dinmore has argued that ‘the Italians gamble through austerity’. The article states that Italians spent an estimated €80bn on legal gaming last year – more than €1,300 each. Since 2006, the Italian government has both liberalised and regulated the sector. The outcome of such strategy is more licences being issued for new segments such as slot machines, bingo, online poker and live poker rooms. In 2011, Italian gambling industry had a gross earning of €18.5bn, which is more than 50 per cent in five years.

For the past eight months, I have been living in Nova Gorica, a ‘casino town’ on the border between Italy and Slovenia. The above mentioned numbers are a constant cause for concern for the gaming industry people on the Slovenian side. Since the golden age of casinoland (mid 1990’s), Italian players have made up to 95 per cent of the overall visitors. The specific economic and symbolic exchanges in this area have actually been sustained by the border itself. First as a dividing line between socialism and capitalism, later as an outcome of different gaming laws in the two neighbouring countries.

Italy has very few land based casinos so the majority of Italians prefer to travel across to Slovenia. Some travel even from as far as Rome. However, with this massive change in Italian gaming licences, Slovenian casinos have suffered a great deal. I am told by people in Nova Gorica that casinos will have to think hard to beat the new competition in the form of a more liberalised Italian gambling outputs. What else can they offer their Italian gusts to win them over once again? With all the travel expenses to Slovenia and from recently easy access to gambling at home, what would keep an Italian player loyal to their old routine of border-crossing?

A very similar phenomenon is happening in the USA – the decision of the State of Massachusetts to allow gambling will seriously affect the neighbouring casinos built on the Native American land. Those were also sustained by the border dynamics between inside and outside of the American national territory.

It will indeed be interesting to watch how the life of these borderlands will change due to new gaming laws. And will they remain borderlands?

Written by Andrea Pisac

May 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm

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