Thousands of people took to the streets Sunday in multiple Spanish cities to protest against the proliferation of gambling and the rapid increase in the number of betting shops around the country, local news outlets report.
Protesters also urged policymakers to implement measures mandating “decent” alternative leisure activities.
Spain’s regulated gambling market is among the largest in Europe. The country has seen gambling tick up significantly since 2014. According to data by the nation’s gambling regulator, the Directorate General for Gambling Regulation (DGOJ), the country’s gambling market grew 387% between 2012 and 2017, from €2.8 billion to more than €13 billion.
Largest Demonstration Takes Place in Madrid
The demonstration that gathered the largest number of protests took place in Madrid. Protesters demonstrated against the considerable growth of the so-called betting houses in central parts of the Spanish capital, with some of the gambling facilities being located close to schools.
According to recent studies, in Madrid alone, the number of betting shops has increased at a whopping rate of 300% since 2013.
The Madrid rally was organized by the Madrid Platform against Betting Houses (Plataforma de Madrid contra las Casas de Apuestas). Commenting on the city and countrywide protests, Adrián Belaire, a spokesperson for the platform, told local media that their goal was to set off a “constant, daily and committed struggle” to eliminate betting houses “which are destroying our neighborhoods.”
Mr. Belaire added that they do not seek the introduction of regulations that would supposedly curb betting shops’ activities and that they want their complete closure. He added that 20 betting facilities are a problem, but a single one is a problem, too.
Mr. Belaire also pointed out that such properties cannot exist in cities as they are always located next to schools, leisure centers, libraries, or parks.
What Do Experts Say?
Experts from the Official College of Psychologists of Madrid say that the age limit for entering private gambling facilities – such as betting shops – has lowered and “more and more families are asking for help because their children have addiction problems.”
According to protesters the online gambling has even intensified the proliferation of gambling in recent years, particularly after the legalization of online slots in the mid 2010s, which came as a really big boost to the country’s regulated online gambling industry.
The Spanish government has control over online gambling and regulates games that are distributed around the country. However, Spain’s autonomous communities are responsible for regulating brick-and-mortar gambling services in their respective territories.
Madrid officials recently implemented a ban on advertising betting and casino products across public media outlets. They also proposed a restriction on the location of betting shops aiming to prevent facilities of this kind from being positioned within 100 meters from schools.
A study by the Spanish Federation of Rehabilitated Gamblers and Madrid’s Association of Psychologists found that one in five Spanish teenagers are addicted to gambling, the highest rate in Europe.
Spanish lawmakers have been discussing this year a series of measures aimed at curbing the proliferation of gambling across the country. One of these measures involves a blanket ban on gambling adverts. The total ban on ads of gaming and betting products was recommended by Spanish Ombudsman Francisco Fernández Marugán.
The government of the country has also reportedly been mulling a ban on celebrity endorsements of gambling products and services as well as on the appearance of gambling operators’ logos during sporting events.
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