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Germany: How Politics Ignore the Gambling Addiction Problem

Berlin and other federal states in Germany have their own gambling hall laws. Most of those seem to be ignoring a big problem which is hurting mainly poor families, namely gambling addiction. While Berlin is in the process of checking its thousands of gambling places for tax evasion and other irregularities, the main issue is not being resolved.

Berlin’s financial administration just announced it was checking the city’s gambling parlors. Almost 30 percent of them had already been audited during the first half of 2019, a press statement read. By doing so, Berlin is hardly helping its 37,000 gambling addicts. While their official number is already high, the actual one is probably a lot higher, according to experts.

In Berlin, there are 1022 operators of gambling machines who run exactly 9771 of them, in gambling halls and pubs. A total of 2566 gambling sites are spread all over the city, not counting the four official casinos run by ‘Spielbank Berlin’, where state-licensed gambling takes place.

Berlin Senator Kollatz Focuses on Gambling Halls

During their checks, city officials ordered special tax audits, due to suspicions they developed or evidence they found. Criminal procedures were started against nine operators since this year began.

“The gambling sector is one of our focuses this year”, Berlin’s Senator of Finance, Matthias Kollatz, said. “We want to make sure the tax liabilities in the laws are being adhered to”, he stated. According to him, the activities of the finance administration are supposed to show whether slot machines in gambling halls were manipulated and if the required bookkeeping takes place.

Gambling in Germany comes in several ways:

  • Bookmakers offer bets on sports events, such as horse racing or soccer.
  • At racetracks, people can bet on horses directly.
  • The official German lottery runs one European and several national lottery games.
  • Online casinos are forbidden in Germany. In spite of this fact, thousands of Germans gamble online.

Protection Mechanism Hardly Makes Sense

On top of all of the above, gambling halls and official casinos attract tens of thousands of visitors every day. There are big differences: In Germany’s large cities, state-licensed official casinos have anywhere between one and four locations, where they offer several games, including Poker, Black Jack and the most lucrative form of them all, namely slots.

These casinos, called ‘Spielbanken‘ in German, check every visitor at the door, meaning I.D.s are required. Anyone who is addicted to gambling and who has stated he or she does not want access anymore for that reason, will be blocked for at least seven years. This means they will not be able to enter any ‘Spielbank’ for a long time.

This protection mechanism would make sense if it applied to regular gambling halls too. This aspect is one of the major differences. In most federal states within Germany, any adult can walk into any gambling hall and throw his or her money into countless slot machines they have. Nobody will ask for any I.D., unless the individual looks younger than 18. Nobody will block access to anyone otherwise.

While slot machines, partially the same models, are available at official casinos as well, the way they are being played at gambling halls differs. The cash amount a gambler can throw into each gambling hall machine is limited, meaning gamblers have to wait for a long time until the money they invested is being ‘sucked in’. Also, gambling hall slots will take mandatory breaks, during which both entering money and retrieving winnings is not possible.

Existing Rules Do Not Improve Things

Politicians, those who decided to force manufacturers and gambling hall owners to adapt to these kinds of rules, thought they would help curb addiction. But they did not. While they wait for one slot machine to react, gambling addicts usually play at several other machines. That way they lose their hard-earned money almost as quickly as in official casinos.

Another difference is that gambling halls are located all over the place, in the addict’s neighborhoods. This means these individuals are constantly reminded of these secret, secluded worlds of slots they can stare at, while forgetting about reality for a while.

In an effort to curb gambling and protect addicts, the federal states adopted their own laws. Three years ago, in 2016, new gambling hall regulations for Berlin forced many gambling halls to shut down. Those which still exist are not allowed to open 23 hours per day anymore, which was previously the case. Also the laws regarding the number of slot machines per square meter have been stricter since.

But none of the steps taken are helping, as long as there are so many ways to gamble, legal and illegal ones, and because in most parts of the country absolutely nobody checks people who enter gambling halls. The same applies to pubs and restaurants for adults, many of which have the same slot machines.

Tax Income Versus Fighting Gambling Addiction

While the gambling industry provides the country with a lot of tax income, and while it creates some jobs, the addiction problem is not being resolved. As a matter of fact, the situation is deteriorating.

Gambling halls are heavily frequented in boroughs in which poor people live. A Berlin social worker recently told The Berlin Spectator that there are addicts in many families confronted with social, financial and other challenges. Especially in those circles, gambling addiction creates existential problems, in the truest sense of the word.

In the meantime, the manufacturers of the slot machines used in gambling halls exploit loopholes in the laws, in order to sell more of their products. By changing labels and little functions in their machines, they adhere to the law while encouraging addicts to throw even their very last coins into those machines.

They do so because Germany does not really curb gambling, even though gambling halls make 70 percent of their income at the gambling addicts’ expense, according to an estimate by the ‘Hessische Landesstelle für Suchtfragen‘, an authority in the province of Hesse which deals with addiction issues of all kinds.

In countries like the United Kingdom, Switzerland or the United States, gambling is far more restricted. It could be in Germany, if there wasn’t so much fiscal revenue to lose.