Gambling is the betting of money on an outcome that is wholly or largely random. It includes things like bingo, roulette, raffles, lotteries, scratch-cards and slot machines. Some definitions of gambling would not include activities like betting on horse racing – as this arguably involves a large element of knowledge and skill to predict what is likely to happen. Card games are a grey area. Some card games, such as poker, have a considerable element of skill. It is therefore arguable that they should not be considered gambling. Other card games are largely a matter of luck. The precise legal definition of gambling varies from country to country.
Most countries regulate gambling but there are still a few who do not, such as Costa Rica, who do not regulate the offshore licenses for gambling that they provide. For states such as the UK and Gibraltar who do regulate gambling, it is often necessary to have a license to run a lottery or a casino. There is also usually a minimum age for gambling. Gambling is illegal in some jurisdictions, including several states of the USA, most regions of Russia and many Islamic countries. In contrast, some governments try to use gambling as a force for good. Many states run lotteries – the profits are used to pay for public services. Charities and nonprofit organizations often hold bingo nights or lotteries to fund-raise. In the USA Native American nations control their own affairs and often profit by being able to run casinos on reservations, attracting gamblers from surrounding states where gambling is banned.
The rise of online gambling on the internet since the 1990s has made government control much harder. In some countries like the USA, online gambling is against the law. But in many states online gambling is now legal. And companies can set up in any country where online gambling is allowed, and offer a service to internet users all over the world. Many people who never bet on a race or visited a casino now gamble online. All of this new activity worries campaigners against gambling, as well as governments who feel that their control is being lost.
Gambling can become a psychologically addictive behavior in some people. According to the Emotional Neuroscience Centre in Massachusetts, “Monetary reward in a gambling-like experiment produces brain activation very similar to that observed in a cocaine addict receiving an infusion of cocaine.”1 Because of this addictive nature, many people end up gambling to try to recover money they have already lost. This is known as ‘chasing losses’. It results in people staking more and more money, most of which they will lose, and sinking deeper and deeper into debt. People start to gamble without thinking that they will become addicted. Once that happens, it is often too late. A gambling addiction, in addition to the long term effects it has, can result in financial ruin in a few short hours.
Unlike drugs, gambling is not physically or metabolically addictive. Most gamblers are not addicts, simply ordinary people who enjoy the excitement of a bet on a sporting event or card game. Only a small percentage of gamblers have an addiction. Many more get enjoyment from gambling without problems. The risks of gambling addiction are well known. People can make a conscious choice to start gambling, and are aware of the risks of addiction.
Gambling can have a devastating effect on families. The most obvious effect is financial as one partner uses all their money on gambling the other needs to support the whole family or the gambler may even gamble away joint savings. Psychologically there is a relationship between gambling and various psychiatric and alcohol disorders. This is also an impact on friends, who do not want to be tied into supporting gambling financially or even just emotionally. Lesieur and Custer estimated that for each problem gambler there were 10-15 other people adversely impacted by the gambling of that person.1 As with drugs, it is harmful to the individual concerned and their family and friends, and it is better to ban gambling to stop people getting started in the first place.
Treatment programs can address the problems of those who are addicted, and many casinos offer “Self-Exclusion Programs”, where individuals can effectively “ban” themselves from casinos. This could be the initiative of either the gambler or their family or friends.
Someone can become addicted very easily – they don’t even need to leave their home, and online gambling sites are available at all hours. This also means that they are gambling in private. They may therefore be less reluctant to wager very large sums they cannot afford. In the United States in 1999 the National Gambling Impact Study stated "the high-speed instant gratification of Internet games and the high level of privacy they offer may exacerbate problem and pathological gambling",1 and it is estimated that 75% of internet gamblers are problem gamblers, compared with 20% of those who visit casinos.
It is very hard to know the identity of an online gambler – there have been several cases of people (including children) using stolen credit cards to gamble online.
Online gambling sites can also get around government regulations that limit the dangers of betting. Because they can be legally sited anywhere in the world, they can pick countries with no rules to protect customers.
1 Skolnik, Sam, High Stakes: the Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction, Beacon Press, 2011, Chapter 5
Internet gambling is in fact less dangerous than normal gambling. It is free from the pressures to gamble that casinos can create through free food and entertainment, glitzy surroundings and peer pressure. And as children can’t get credit cards, they should not be able to gamble online anyway. Stolen credit cards can be used to commit fraud in any number of ways - online gambling is not a specific problem here. It is also in the interest of internet gambling sites to run a trustworthy, responsible business. Whatever they are looking for online, internet users choose trusted brands that have been around for a while. If a gambling site acts badly, for example by changing its odds unfairly, word will soon get around and no one will want to use it.
Casinos are often associated with crime, particularly organized crime. When it comes to local crimes a study has found that only larceny(theft) liquor violations increased significantly with a small increase in prostitution.1 But comparing statistics probably does not show the real harm; drug dealers and prostitutes operate near casinos – they know that there are a large number of potential clients in the area. Moreover when a gambler is in debt and wishes to continue gambling due to its addictive nature, he or she often turns to loan sharks as no bank would lend to them. Casinos can therefore be devastating to neighborhoods. It would of course be wrong to assume all gamblers are criminals, although there is an increased possibility that gamblers in debt could turn to criminality through illegal borrowing. These loan sharks themselves usually have links to organized crime, in some cases are actually run by organized crime,2 and use brutal methods to reclaim their money. By banning gambling the opportunities for loan sharks to offer their services is greatly reduced due to a lesser amount of gamblers in debt, as are the opportunities for prostitutes therefore reducing criminal activity in the areas surrounding casinos.
People committing crimes should be prosecuted. The existence of criminals does not make nearby businesses (including casinos) immoral. It is perverse to punish people who just want to gamble (and not take drugs or use prostitutes) by taking away their chance to do so.
Poor people are more likely to gamble, in the hope of getting rich. In 1999, the National Gambling Impact Commission in the United States found that 80 percent of gambling revenue came from lower-income households1. It is immoral for the state or charities to raise money by exploiting people’s stupidity and greed. Taxing gambling is a regressive tax (this means that the poor pay a greater proportion of their income in tax than the rich), and regressive taxation is deeply unfair. Gambling attracts people with little money who are desperate for a windfall. These are the people who can least afford to lose money.
Gambling effects every person in the same way, everyone have the free will to decide to gamble and each may win or lose despite of their wealth or position in society, thus gambling cannot affect poor people to a greater extent. Gambling is only regressive because more poor people choose to gamble.
Gambling does also have good effects on all member of society- Gambling is often used to raise money for the state or good causes. Many governments tax gambling. Some even run their own lotteries. Charities use prize draws to raise funds. Because people will gamble anyway, the best that governments can do is to pass rules to make it safe and try to get some social good out of it. If the government uses the revenue to help people on lower-incomes, it is not necessarily true that taxes on gambling are regressive and target the poor.
Gambling makes people concentrate of winning money. Religious leaders of all denominations see gambling as eroding family values1 because it implies that material goods should be valued above other things like friendships and families. It also sends out the message that success should not necessarily be the result of merit and effort. As a philosophy, ‘gambling culture’ is incredibly dangerous. Those in society who most need to self-improve, never do. Instead, they tie their hopes and dreams to the lottery. There may be the possibility of winning a big prize, but the overwhelming likelihood is that a gambler will lose money. Instead, governments should be promoting values like thrift, hard work and self-reliance rather than encouraging or even allowing gambling to promote its own negative values.
There is no evidence that gambling makes people not care about others. People do not gamble because they expect to win lots of money. Most gamble as a form of entertainment. Also, there are many areas of life where success is not the result of merit or hard work. Someone born to well-off parents may get many advantages in life without merit or hard work. There are therefore no grounds for thinking that gambling promotes these undesirable values. The desire for wealth one that stems from society as a whole, not casinos.
People have free will and should be allowed to spend their money on which ever leisure pursuits they choose. Gamblers know that, overall, they are likely to lose money. They gamble because it is a leisure pursuit that they enjoy.
There is nothing irrational about this. Some people get an enjoyable thrill from the remote possibility that they might win a huge prize – even if he or she loses, they enjoy the experience. Some forms of gambling are highly sociable. For example, many people are involved in ‘social gambling’ and go to bingo halls (or equivalent) to spend time with friends, and some types of gambling are interlinked with other leisure pursuits such as horse racing.* Society accepts people spending money on other leisure pursuits with no material benefits (e.g. cinema tickets, watching sport) – gambling should not be any different. It is patronizing to suggest that people should not be able to choose how they spend their money or their leisure time.
Gambling is a harmful activity and could have harmful effects on not only to individuals but also on their friends and family. Gamblers may win money from time to time, but in the long run, the house always wins. Why should governments allow an activity that helps their citizens lose the money they have worked so hard to earn? Surely it is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens from harming themselves, just as harmful substances are illegal, gambling should also be illegal.
When gambling has been banned, people have just found a way round the ban. They use internet sites based in other countries. A good example being the Ukraine, who in May 2009 made gambling illegal, this included internet gambling. By July 2009, over 500 illegal gambling operations were established, where 6,000 slot machines were confiscated and 216 criminal charges were made in connection to illegal gambling.1 This illustrates how banning gambling can creates a thriving underground market.
It is better to legalize and regulate online gambling than to drive gamblers to poorly-regulated foreign operators. Regulation can reduce the problems identified by the proposition. For example, online gamblers can be required to give personal details when registering (e.g. occupation, income). If this information suggests he or she is spending more than they can afford, the company can block their credit card.
Gambling is not impossible to ban, although it will not be easy such examples of states that have banned it show that it is possible and although illegal activity may arise from the ban this can also be stopped by though rules. If government did not ban activities where some may find a way around it, nothing would be banned at all.
Making an activity more difficult to pursue will still reduce the number of those who take it up. It is not impossible to put effective deterrent steps in place, such as the recent US ban on American banks processing credit card payments to internet gambling sites.
Casinos can revive entire areas and regions. They create jobs and cause money to be spent on transport infrastructure. The jobs are not just in the casino itself. More jobs are created in hotels and other parts of the tourism industry. In an article for nwjob.com Sandra Miedema, ‘Snoqualmies’ employment coordinator is quoted saying that at any one time there are an average of 20 vacancies, from chefs to table dealers.1 In the United States commercial casinos employed more than 350,000 people in 2003.2
Casinos have helped to regenerate many places that previously had considerable poverty and social problems, e.g. Atlantic City, New Jersey5.
The economic benefits of casinos are exaggerated.1 They generally only create low-paid jobs for local people – the casino companies usually bring in managers from elsewhere. The problems associated with casinos (e.g. crime, gambling addiction) outweigh the economic benefits. In any case, an immoral industry is not justified by the fact that it creates employment.
What is the difference between gambling and playing the stock market? In each case people are putting money at risk in the hope of a particular outcome. Gambling on horse-racing or games involves knowledge and expertise that can improve your chances of success. In the same way, trading in bonds, shares, currency or derivatives is a bet that your understanding of the economy is better than that of other investors. Why should one kind of online risk-taking be legal and the other not?
Gambling is quite different from buying stocks and shares. With the stock market investors are buying a stake in an actual company. This share may rise or fall in value, but so can a house or artwork. In each case there is a real asset that is likely to hold its value in the long term, which isn’t the case with gambling. Company shares and bonds can even produce a regular income through dividend and interest payments. It is true that some forms of financial speculation are more like gambling – for example the derivatives market or short-selling, where the investor does not actually own the asset being traded. But these are not types of investment that ordinary people have much to do with. They are also the kinds of financial activity most to blame for the financial crisis, which suggests we need more government control, not less.
Associated Press, ‘Atlantic City to be transformed by 2012’, 20 November 2007, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21886619/
Hedwig, Johannes, et al., ‘Hypersensitivity to Reward in Problem Gamblers’, Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 67, No. 8, April 15 2010, pp.781-783, http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(09)01346-8/abstract
Holahan, Catherine, ‘Online Gambling Still in the Cards’, Bloomberg Businessweek, 3 October 2006, http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/oct2006/tc20061002_295924.htm
Jordan, Mary, ‘Mafia loan sharks making a killing’, Washington Post, 15 March 2009, http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2009/03/15/mafia_loan_sharks_making_a_killing/
Kindt, John Warren, ‘The Business-Economic Impacts of Licensed Casino Gambling in West
Virginia: Short-Term Gain but Long-Term Pain’, PBS, 1995, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/gamble/procon/kindt.html
Kyiv Post, ‘Governmental checks expose over 500 facts of illegal operation of gambling establishments’, 20 July 2009, http://www.kyivpost.com/news/business/bus_general/detail/45541/
Lange, Mark, ‘The Gambling Scan on America’s Poor’, Christian Science Monitor,3 May 2007. http://www.alternet.org/rights/51365/
Libraryindex.com, ‘Casinos: The Effects of Casinos – Employment’, http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/1592/Casinos-Effects-Casinos-EMPLOYMEN...
Ormsby, Katie, ‘Winning work: At area casinos, job openings are a safe bet’, NWJobs, October 7, 2011. http://blog.nwjobs.com/careercenter/winning_work_at_area_casinos_job_openings_are_a_safe_bet.html
Shaw, Martha C. et al., ‘The Effect of Pathological Gambling on Families, Marriages , and Children’, CNS Spectrums, Vol. 12, No. 8, 2007, pp.615-622, http://www.cnsspectrums.com/aspx/articledetail.aspx?articleid=1162
Skolnik, Sam, High Stakes: the Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction, Beacon Press, 2011
Stitt, Grant, et al., ‘Does the Presence of Casinos Increase Crime? An Examination of Casino and Control Communities’, Crime & Delinquency, Vol. 49, No. 2, April 2003, pp.253-284, http://www.pineforge.com/mssw3/overviews/pdfs/Stitt_Article.pdf
The General Education Centre of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, ‘Report on A Study of Hong Kong People’s Participation in Gambling Activities’, Home Affairs Bureau, March 2002, http://www.hab.gov.hk/file_manager/en/documents/whats_new/gambling/report-eng.pdf