Studies say over 2,000 Icelanders struggle with serious gambling addiction, RÚV reports. Up to three times that number experience some level of addiction to gambling.
Casinos are illegal in Iceland, but slot machines are in operation and are used to raise funds for the University of Iceland, the Icelandic Red Cross, and others.
“I had a heart attack in 2010. I couldn’t walk out of the hospital after the surgery I had. That night I went to Catalina in Kópavogur and you have to walk down stairs, a steep, difficult staircase. I had to go play. And nothing can stop you,” said Örn Karlsson, a recovering gambling addict.
Alma Hafsteinsdóttir, also a recovering addict, criticizes the system which allows slot machines and a society which accepts them. “We want everyone to take responsibility, not only the addict,” she says.
The University of Iceland operates a lottery to fund the school’s operations. Most of the profits come from 500 slot machines, which funnel as much as ISK 700 million (USD 7m/EUR 5.7m) into the school’s treasury. The Icelandic Red Cross in turn receives over ISK 500 million (USD 5m/EUR 4m) yearly from Íslandsspila slot machines, of which it owns a majority. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) and The National Centre of Addiction Medicine (SÁÁ) also fund part of their operations through slot machines.
University of Iceland Professor of Psychology Daníel Ólason has studied the Icelandic gambling market since 2002. He says the type of slot machines available in Iceland, which provide ‘jackpot’ winnings, are usually not available outside of casinos in other countries. “It is unusual that we have these conditions—with this type of slot machine in rather general distribution,” he remarks. “It would be wrong to say we are doing things better than our neighbouring countries.”