Don’t Bet on Gambling
The lure for a quick buck has enticed individuals to make ill-conceived decisions for as long as time has been recorded. It is no surprise, then, that the push to legalize gambling has been spawning debate for some time. While many states hope that legalizing gambling will create more revenue for the states’ operations, such as schools, roads, and other programs, opponents of legalized gambling cite social and moral decline as reason alone for not allowing gambling to take a legal foothold in the United States while also countering the alleged economic benefits.
Gambling has been a part of United States history since the colonial era. In fact, lotteries were used to raise money for the thirteen original colonies so that the new settlements would be successful. This form of legal gambling lasted until 1894 when a seventy-year dry spell for lotteries took over. However, in 1964, lotteries rebounded with the first legal lottery held in New Hampshire. Most states followed suit very quickly (Dunstan). “This growth of gambling has been remarkable: in 30 years gambling has transformed itself from sinful to well-accepted” (Eadington 3). By 1996, all but two states had some sort of legal gambling. Casino gambling is the fastest growing recently, with most casinos built since this date (The United States Gross Annual Wager 45). Clearly, the quest for money had overtaken the negative moral and social factors associated with gambling. Other than lotteries, three other forms of legal gambling exist. They are pari-mutuel betting, charitable gaming, and casino gaming. Parimutuel betting pays based upon how much money is wagered overall. Horse-racing and dog-racing are examples. The more money bet, the higher the payout. Charitable gaming is operated to make money for non-profit organizations. One obvious example is bingo. The money from the bingo may go to aid a church, shelter or similar need. Casino gaming is the Las Vegas style of gaming that involves banked games. This means the bank (the house) is also a player in the game. It funds the money and wins most of the time. “Casino gaming is the largest part of the commercial gambling market. Casino gaming continues to grow in popularity, fueled by the creation of new casino destinations and the expansion of existing casino locales” (Dunstan). More and more states are offering legal casinos. It is clear that states and individuals hope to legalize gambling in order to make money. It is also clear that gambling can weaken the moral fiber of society. Thus, the basic debate, according to most supporters and opponents of legalized gambling, occurs between the economic benefit and the social and moral ills of gambling. While the economic benefits can be proven less than supporters assert, the negative social and moral effects may be even greater than once thought. The states hope that legalizing gambling will give them the revenue to operate schools, build and maintain roads, and support other such causes. However, this gain is predicated on the losses of the states’ citizens. Thus, state-supported gambling can be seen as a corrupting force and as opposing public virtue and even the livelihoods of some of its citizens. “Citizens would be outraged if their state government began enticing its citizens to engage in potentially destructive behavior (like taking drugs). But those same citizens see no contradiction when government legalizes and even promotes gambling” (Anderson). Indeed, states do advertise and promote these lotteries to citizens, many of which cannot afford to play them, via television, radio and billboard ads. The costs do not outweigh the benefits for the gamblers either. Economic costs that gamblers themselves incur are significant. The odds of winning a jackpot in a lottery are only one in five million, which is more than five times greater than the odds of being struck by lightning, which are only one in six hundred thousand (Gambling in America 156; Anderson). Even though people of all income levels gamble, the poor, who cannot afford to lose their money, gamble a higher percentage of their income than the rich. Thus, gambling losses take a higher toll on them (156). The Field Institute’s California Poll of lottery players found that 18 percent of the adult players bought 71 percent of the tickets. These heavy lottery players (who bought more than 20 tickets in the contest’s first 45 days) are more likely than others to be black, poorer and less educated than the average Californian (Anderson). These individuals are more prone to going into debt because of gambling. The average compulsive gambler, generally of a lower socioeconomic class, compiles debt in the range of $80,000 (Anderson). What about the money that the state takes in? Is this money worth the problems it may cause? The answer is no, for two different reasons. First, most gambling proceeds do not even come close to supplying the money necessary for operating education or transportation systems. “For example, lottery revenue in Michigan and California pays for just three to five percent of education budgets. The same is true for taxes generated by games such as casinos or horse racing.” So much money must be used to pay for the operation of the gambling and the payment of prizes that little is left over for the other uses (education, roads, special programs) promised to the citizens. Furthermore, gambling proceeds are not consistent. Games become less alluring, or boring, so more money must be spent to come up with newer games to once again entice the community to play. People begin to believe that their taxes can remain at the same, low rate forever, when they may actually be forced to rise at any given time. Likewise, many proponents of the lottery specifically argue that it makes higher education possible for many young people that may not normally have been able to attend. However, Stanley and French note that state-sponsored lotteries “increased spending on education per capita during the early years of the lottery, but as time passed, these same states witnessed an overall decrease in spending for education” (22). This means that the economic benefits for education may not continue indefinitely. In some cases, lottery profits are used to replace the state’s original funding, so there is actually no more money available than the state originally had. Often this money is set aside for education in a general fund, but then budget shortfalls demand its use elsewhere as determined by state politicians. In this case, the money never makes it to the educational system (Stanley and French 23). In short, legalized gaming is one of the least efficient ways available for gaining revenue. Another sad fact is the impact on local business. While many argue that tourism will grow and thrive in areas with legal gambling, research shows the opposite. Local businesses that also offer leisure time activities are pushed out of the market, with many ending up selling out to make more room for more gambling. Economists call this cannibalization, and often times the businesses that get eaten up first are those offering other leisure activities such as dining out, theater or sports events. A study done at the University of Wyoming found that in Deadwood, S.D., more than just entertainment businesses were affected— 78 business had been converted to casinos one year after gambling began there. The change that resulted in the local economy was summed up by the retiring sheriff in Deadwood who claimed, “I have to drive 60 miles to buy a pair of socks!” (Pulsipher 24). As a result the town becomes simply one, big gambling casino, its entire personality and camaraderie lost. Yet the biggest problem with legalizing gambling is the social decline it lays upon society. “The social impact of gambling is often hidden from the citizens who decide to participate in legalized gambling. But later these costs show up in the shattered lives of individuals and their families” (Anderson). Anderson goes on to cite psychologist Julian Taber, who warns, “No one knows the social costs of gambling or how many players will become addicted…the states are experimenting with the minds of the people on a massive scale.” Gambling addictions are just now becoming an overwhelming drain on social services of many states, especially those with many gambling options. Basically, as discussed above, the poor are the target market for these gambling campaigns. This happens for three reasons: 1) The poor are generally undereducated and have little contact with educated people, 2) They, thus, develop the mindset of living in and getting by in the present, and 3) The poor feel, at times, out of control of their lives and gambling gives them the sense of regaining some of that control. Sadly, states tend to exploit these individuals with instant win games, the ones that bring in nearly half of the revenue for the states from lotteries. The chance to choose numbers gives them a feeling of control as well, even if the control isn’t real (Wisman 958-959). Beyond the economic burden of gambling, its ability to degrade social values is also a negative impact brought on by legalizing gambling. This gambling affects individuals other than the poor. Some college students are now getting into the swing of legalized gambling. In fact, LaBrie et al, notes that college gambling is nearing “epidemic proportions” and quotes Cedric Dempsey, the chief operating officer of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, who says “there is evidence more money is spent on gambling on campuses than on alcohol” (53). It is widely known that college students engage in risk-taking behaviors. A study at Harvard University found that these risky behaviors, which include “overeating, alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior, and the use of illegal drugs, have been found to be associated with gambling and gambling problems” in college students (LaBrie et al. 53-64). In addition, the rise of college betting has become unmanageable, drawing students’ money and attention away from the reason they are in college in the first place. Betting on NCAA sports has become so out of control on college campuses that the NCAA has undertaken an education campaign to teach students of its dangers (NCAA to unveil plan on gambling dangers 7C). Student are coming away from these bets hundreds, even thousands of dollars in debt. Tragically, this problem can follow the student into adulthood. Casinos, for example, frequently provide alcohol free-of-charge to casino players with the hope that the alcohol will make the gamblers play longer, play with less skill, and wager more than they would if they were sober. Welte et al. calls this reckless play an example of disinhibition – “the weakening of culturally transmitted standards for acceptable behavior….While drinkers may or may not subjectively experience diminished self-control, drinking alcohol and even the mere belief that one is drinking alcohol, has been shown to cause disinhibition” (1408). Casino operators are more than happy to cut the losses on alcohol revenue to entice higher, more risky wagers from the customers. Sadly, the legalization of gambling leads to compulsive gamblers who will stop at nothing for the thrill of the bet. Gambling is an addiction, and is one of the most frequently reported social costs of gambling, which, according to many sources, are underreported. “For a small percentage of the population, gambling is an addiction no less harmful or potent than addiction to drugs, alcohol, and other chemical substances….Indeed, it is not uncommon for problem gamblers to abandon their young children in parked automobiles or casino lobbies for hours and even days as they gamble (Gambling on Gambling, 38). Compulsive, problem gambling is defined by the National Council on Problem gambling as a progressive addiction characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences (What is Problem Gambling?) Research studies note that up to 6% of adults will become addicted to gambling with teens actually showing a higher percentage of vulnerability for the deceptive pastime (Gambling on Gambling 38). These social costs translate into real dollars. According to Gamblers Anonymous, the actual monetary costs for each gambling addict can fall between $15,000 and $30,000 per year. These costs include “the costs of apprehending, adjudicating, and jailing gambling-related criminals; lost output of addicted gamblers; and direct costs of regulating gambling. The toll of gambling-related insurance fraud alone is estimated at $1.3 billion per year, or more than $10 per year for every working American” (Welte 1409). It is important to note that these gambling addicts may not have become addicts were it not for the accessibility of gambling in their community. Much like the prevalence of alcohol on college campuses allows for more student binge drinking, the availability of gambling establishments allows for more individuals to “discover” their own addictive personalities. According to the Mayo Clinic, “people who live close to a casino or betting facility are more likely to develop a gambling problem than are those who live farther away” (Compulsive Gambling). Legalizing gambling allows for more people to develop this addiction which has horrible consequences on their families and loved ones which include:
§ Estrangement of family and friends
§ Financial problems
§ Legal problems, as you may resort to illegal activities to fund your addictive behavior
§ Workplace problems
§ Development of associated problems, such as excessive alcohol consumption or drug abuse
Beyond the addict himself, an entire community can suffer from the rise in crime that is associated with the moral decline associated with gambling. Economists David B. Mustard of the University of Georgia and Earl L. Grinols of Baylor University analyzed crime data from each county in the entire nation for 19 years. They used the FBI figures for seven crime categories which included aggravated assault, rape, robbery, murder, larceny, burglary and auto theft to compare counties with casinos to counties without casinos (Vitagliano). They noted that crime rates followed a predictable pattern in counties with casinos. First, the crime rates were all stable before the casino opened. Then, they dropped a slight bit during the first year of operation. However, they rose back to their average levels and above for the next five years, with the greatest rise being in the fourth and fifth years. Robbery was category of crime that showed the most increase. By year number five of a casino’s “life,” robberies increased 136% (Vitagliano). “The researchers explained that the “lag time” – or delay – before the onset of this casino-related increase in crime was probably due to a number of factors. For one thing, casinos appeared to initially decrease crime in their host counties, because casinos often hired numerous local, low-skilled workers, some of whom might otherwise be tempted to dabble in criminal enterprises” In addition the researchers reported that casinos attract many criminal elements in society including prostitutes, organized crime and drug pushers (Vitagliano). Additionally, those that live near a casino usually take a few months to develop their addiction to the point of resorting to criminal activity to make up for their losses. Sixty-two percent of the Gamblers Anonymous attendees admitted to committing illegal acts to fund their gambling. Over fifty percent admitted to stealing with the average amount stolen totaling over $60,000 per gambler. Generally, the overall costs that casinos generate based on crime nationally are nearly 40 billion dollars (Vitagliano). Despite any waning attempt at claiming economic benefits for a community when it legalizes gambling, it is clear that both economic and social costs far exceed any profits. Legalizing gambling presents a terrible burden on the community from the crime it generates, to the addicts it produces to the moral decline it causes. Thus, legalizing gambling should be reversed and prohibited in the future. The United States does not need to legitimize and sanction such activities just for the sake of a dollar.
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