Timothy A. Kelly, Ph.D.
National Gambling Impact Study Commission
Gambling Backlash: Four Reasons for a Moratorium
September 28, 2001
Four Reasons for a Moratorium on Gambling Expansion
1. Gambling comes with a high social cost - addiction.
- A Harvard study estimates 15.4 million Americans already are suffering from problem and pathological gambling--also called gambling addiction--which is often devastating to the individual and their family. The National Academies of Science found that "pathological gamblers engage in destructive behaviors: they commit crimes, they run up large debts, they damage relationships with family and friends, and they kill themselves." It is not unusual for a gambling addict to end up in bankruptcy, with a broken family, facing a criminal charge from his or her employer.
- Youth introduced early to gambling are particularly at risk for gambling addiction,which often begins with lottery play. This can lead to tragic outcomes; one 16-year-old boy attempted suicide after losing $6,000 on lottery tickets. In fact, if the nation continues its mad rush to expand lotteries and casinos, we can expect that Americas youth will soon be experiencing gambling addiction at epidemic proportions. For our youth, gambling is no less a threat than smoking.
- The elderly are also at risk, with money and time to burn. Increasing numbers are bussed to casinos, lose all or part of their savings, and find themselves turning into compulsive gamblers.
- Is this really an addiction? According to the American Psychiatric association it has all the hallmarks of addiction: preoccupation, tolerance, withdrawal, escape, lying, loss of control, illegal acts.
2. Gambling has hidden negative economic impacts.
- Lottery revenue comes from money that would otherwise have been spent at local businesses and services. After all, the money has to come from somewhere. Instead of being spent on food, clothing or entertainment, it's spent on lottery tickets- - often by those who can least afford it.
- Legalized gambling leads to increased costs to the state from bankruptcies, addiction treatment centers, and the penal system. NORC estimated that direct gambling costs borne by the government are currently over $6 billion per year ($500 million/month--money that could have gone to education). That does not count indirect costs such as loss of productivity in the work-place, divorce, consequences for the family, etc. It is reasonable to suggest that the more gambling a state offers, the more of these costs it must bear.
3. State sponsered lotteries prey on the poor.
4. Gambling is associated with corruption of government.
- In my view, this is perhaps the greatest danger inherent in legalized gambling--it's pernicious ability to corrupt the political process. With so much money available for campaign and other contributions, it is just too easy for the gambling industry to influence our policy makers.
- The gambling industry is apparently not run by the mob as it was in the old days. But there is a tendency for gambling proposals to come in with "muscle" in terms of aggressive, secretive, well-funded tactics that stretch the limits of what is legal and appropriate. Watch for this phenomenon whenever a new gambling initiative is put forward.