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Debate: Gambling

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Is gambling generally bad for society? Should it be severely restricted?

Background and context

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 – although 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. For example, it is often necessary to have a licence 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 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. 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. At the time of writing (August 2006), the British government was liberalizing gambling laws. It hopes to use casinos to create employment in disadvantaged areas. The arguments presented below mostly concern gambling in general. However, much current controversy relates to internet gambling. This form of gambling is covered in the last argument on either side. Several states of the USA have banned internet gambling. However, it has proved very hard to stop people using websites based in other countries.

Contents

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Individual effects: Is gambling generally harmful to the individual gambler?

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Yes

  • Gambling is irrational and reckless and should, therefore, be regulated by the government. There may be the possibility of winning a big prize, but the overwhelming likelihood is that a gambler will lose money. This is ensured by the fact that Casinos are profit-minded organizations, and calculate their odds so that they will always make a profit. Because gamblers are always likely to lose and suffer as a result, the activity can be seen in many ways as an irrational engagement.
Gambling attracts people with little money who are desperate for a windfall. These are the people who can least afford to lose money. They should be protected from the temptation to gamble.
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No

Contention that the general individual losses from gambling are justified by it being a fun and leisurely activity worth "paying" for: 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 they lose, they enjoy the experience. Some forms of gambling are highly sociable. For example, many people go to bingo halls to spend time with friends. Society accepts people spending (“wasting”?) 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, including those on low incomes, should not be able to choose how they spend their money.

  • Psychological benefits of gambling: Some argue that gambling offers psychological benefits. The psychological benefits may include:
  1. A feeling of control (which some describe as God-like).
  2. Confidence that extends from feelings of executive control in decision-making.
  3. Benefits in the ability to psycho-analyze other peoples thoughts, and placing moneyed interests and incentives behind the results of such psycho-analysis.[1]
  4. Total engagement and "peak experience". "It provides the gambler with 'peak experience,' that godlike feeling when all of one's physical and emotional senses are 'go.'"[2]
  5. The release from daily tension.
  6. Feelings of exercising "'the adventurer within us' - that part of ourselves which lusts for change, the wooing of the unknown, change, danger, all that is new...It is part of what makes us human."[3]
  7. Feelings of engaging in a ubiquitous, historical human tradition.
  8. Emotions of non-conformity and freedom. One source quoted a gambler who said, "All day long you do what them dumb bastard supervisors tell you. Don't make no difference whether it makes sense or not. Sometimes you just gotta get out of line."[4]
  • Gambling increases individual efficiency: Studies show that, contrary to popular belief, gambling is by and large beneficial to the gambler and increases rather than decreases his efficiency. It is beneficial in that it stimulates, offers hope, allows decision making, and, in many cases,
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Crime effects: Does gambling cause an increase in various kinds of related criminal activities?

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Yes

  • Casinos are often associated with criminal activity. Drug dealers and prostitutes operate near casinos – they know that there are a large number of potential clients in the area. Casinos can therefore be devastating to neighborhoods.
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No

  • 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.
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Bad industry? Are casinos an industry with bad merit? Is nothing of value produced by casinos?

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Yes

  • Casinos don't produce any "product": Many contend that gambling is inappropriate because it does not generate any tangible product. One commentators says that gambling "is an ethereal substance--"a biological substance"--that produces "highs...generated usually by anticipation."[5]
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No

  • Contention that casinos are involved in the entertainment business, and need not produce a tangible product: Gambling is a form of entertainment that is similar to many other forms of entertainment; the objective is merely to foster a desired emotional response from the audience. Movies, theater, fair-grounds, concerts, sporting-events, and casinos are all similar in that their primary function is to foster an environment of entertainment. That is their "product", which need not be physical in order to be viewed as valuable.
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Addiction: Is gambling commonly addictive, and would this be a reason for regulating it?

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Yes

  • Gambling is addictive. 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. Gambling addicts often turn to crime to feed their addiction. Addiction is highly damaging to families, since gamblers will spend whatever money they can on gambling. People start to gamble without thinking that they will become addicted. Once they become addicted, it is too late. As with drugs, it is better to ban gambling to stop people getting started in the first place.
  • Analogy that gambling truly is like a drug, and should be treated as a controlled substance:
    • It is "drug-like" in the way that it dramatically utilizes human chemicals: William M. Thompson, "Gambling: A Controlled Substance", PBS Interview, 1994 - "Is the comparison of drugs and gambling unfair? Consider the words of Thomas R. O'Brien, formerly Director of Gaming Enforcement for the state of New Jersey. In 1984 he told a conference on gambling that the success of Atlantic City was tied to how well it sold its 'only products.' He then said: 'That product is not entertainment or recreation or leisure. It's really adrenaline: a biological substance capable of producing excitement--highs and generated usually by anticipation or expectation of a future event, especially when the outcome of that event is in doubt.' According to chief regulator of the industry, gambling was not only a drug, but a mind-altering drug."
    • The addictive and destructive nature of gambling is also drug-like: William M. Thompson, "Gambling: A Controlled Substance", PBS Interview, 1994 - "Where governments do not prohibit, the majority can exercise self-control. Seventy-five percent gamble responsibly. They find it an entertaining diversion. But another 20 percent overindulge. They incur debts that impair abilities to support their families, unless they stop. Usually they can. Four percent cannot stop without intervention of others. Then there are the one-half to one percent (and these are conservative estimates) who fall into destructive behaviors when exposed to gambling. Families are destroyed, friendships broken, employment disrupted. Cycles of deception and crime lead to ruined lives--and in many cases, suicide."
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No

  • Contention that gambling is not physically addictive: Unlike drugs, gambling is not physically addictive. It is only psychologically addictive in some people. Only a small percentage of gamblers have an addiction. Many more get enjoyment from gambling without problems – why should these people suffer because a few others get addicted? 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. Treatment programmes can address the problems of those who are addicted.
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Economic harm? Do casinos casinos cause economic harm or provide very few economic benefits?

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Yes

  • The long-term economic negatives outweigh the short-term economic gains: John Warren Kind, "The Business-Economic Impacts of Licensed Casino Gambling in West Virginia: Short-Term Gain but Long-Term Pain", PBS, 1994 - "While the dollars invested in various legalized gambling projects and the jobs initially created are evident, the industry has been criticized for inflating the positive economic impacts and trivializing or ignoring the negative impacts (Goodman 1994). The industry's tendency to focus on specialized factors provides a distorted view of the localized economic positives, while ignoring the strategic business-economic costs to the state as a whole (such as West Virginia) and to different regions of the United States (California Governor's Office 1992, Kindt 1995). In 1994, all of the various experts who testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business criticized the impacts that casino-style gambling activities inflict upon the criminal justice system, the social welfare, system, small businesses, and the economy (Congressional Hearing 1994). Utilizing legalized gambling activities as a strategy for economic development was thoroughly discredited during the hearing."
  • The actual economic benefits of casinos are exaggerated. They generally only create low-paid jobs for local people; the casino companies usually bring in managers from elsewhere.
  • There are too many economic "externalities" surrounding gambling, which nullify the benefits:
    • Crime -
    • Risky behavior - Compulsive gambling may foster poor, sometimes risky money-management habits. These habits may transfer over to other areas of the economy, where risky behaviors translate into a higher likelihood of loss in various markets.
    • Time consumption - Compulsive gambling often entails significant time consumption, which detracts from more productive ends.
  • Jobs could be created through many other industries that cause fewer moral and practical problems (e.g. theme parks).
  • Any economic benefits would not matter, if the industry is deemed immoral:
  • Estimated losses from compulsive gambling: William M. Thompson, "Gambling: A Controlled Substance", PBS Interview, 1994 - "Conservative numbers suggest it costs society $13,000 per year for each compulsive gambler. The losses include treatment costs, lost productivity, criminal activity and judicial costs. Estimating that widespread gambling across America would create one million compulsive gamblers, the resulting annual economic loss would exceed $13 billion."
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No

  • Casinos cause money to be spent on transport infrastructure, which is very beneficial to economies:
  • Casinos help the tourism industry of a place: The jobs are not just in the casino itself. More jobs are created in hotels and other parts of the tourism industry.
  • Examples in which casinos have helped to regenerate many places that previously had considerable poverty and social problems:
    • Atlantic City.
    • New Jersey.
  • Legalized gambling on reservations is very important to Native American tribes: Anthony Pico, Chairman of the Viejas Indians, explains the benefits to his tribe of legalized gambling on his tribe's reservation in a PBS interview.[6]
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Social welfare effects: Are the charitable generations from gambling substantial, and can this go toward justifying their existence?

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Yes

  • It is immoral for the state or charities to raise money by exploiting people’s stupidity and greed.
  • Gambling is regressive (this means that the poor pay a greater proportion of their income in tax than the rich). This is because poor people are more likely to gamble. Regressive taxation is deeply unfair.
  • Contention that education is harmed by gambling practices: Kind, PBS, 1994 - "Legalized gambling activities also negatively affect education-- both philosophically and fiscally (Better Government Association 1992; Clotfelter and Cook 1989). Adherence to a philosophy of making a living via gambling activities not only abrogates the perceived need for an education, but also reinforces economically unproductive activities (and is statistically impossible since the 'house' always wins eventually). In states with legalized gambling activities which were initiated allegedly to bolster tax revenues to 'education,' the funding in 'real dollars' has almost uniformly decreased."
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No

  • Gambling is often used to raise money for the state or good causes. Charities use prize draws to raise funds:
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Should online gambling be banned?

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Yes

  • Internet gambling is especially dangerous. Someone can become addicted very easily – they don’t even need to leave their home. This also means that they are gambling in private. They may therefore be less reluctant to wager very large sums they cannot afford. 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 may be hard to control but that is not a reason to try – 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 ]\.
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No

  • It is impossible to stop online gambling. When it has been banned, people have just used sites based in other countries. 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 they are spending more than they can afford, the company can block their credit card. In any case, most online gamblers do not get addicted. Why should they be denied an activity that they enjoy?

See also

External links and resources

Books:


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