The Evolution of Gambling Addiction


It may be human to be tempted, but the consequences of being tempted to gamble could be disastrous. English writer, Own Feltham, said, “By gaming we lose both our time and treasure, two things most precious to the life of man.” But that does not stop people from gambling.

In fact, the North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help says that about 2.6% of Americans, or about 10 million people, suffer from some form of gambling addiction.  Studies show that over 80% of American adults gamble annually, and about 750,000 teenagers in the ages 14-21 are addicted to gambling.

Federal and state expenditure shows that gambling addiction is a burden to society as a whole. In 2016, tax payer dollars for problem gambling went up to $73 million. The government, now, spends about $6 billion each year on gambling related problems. Former Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, once said,There is a respectable body of economic thought that holds that casino gambling is actually economically regressive to a state and a community.”

A collection of information on gambling, based on different studies and cases showed its disastrous consequences – destroying individuals, breaking up families, increasing crime and costing more money for the government than revenues earned from gambling. In 2007, Americans lost over $92 billion as gambling debts, their losses nine times higher than in 1982, and almost 10 times more than the total of money spent on movie tickets by Americans in 2007. This is according to the book High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction, written by journalist Sam Skolnik.

History shows that the US has had a turbulent relationship with gambling over the years, ever since the arrival of the first European settlers. By the end of 1910, gambling was banned across the entire US, because of public pressure. The 18th Amendment prohibiting gambling became law in 1919, when Nevada, as the 36th state to sign, ratified the Bill in Congress. Fourteen years later, in 1931, as a strategy to lift its economy from the economic downturn of the 1929 Great Depression, Nevada re-legalized gambling, becoming the only state with legal casino gambling. It took 47 more years, for the second state of New Jersey to legalize casino gambling in 1978. Resorts International Inc opened a gambling casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on May 26, 1978. Seven years later, in 1985, came another first in the gambling industry – the first interstate lottery in the US, which connected the state lotteries of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Today, over 1000 casinos are open in the US, which report an annual growth of 3.1%. As expected, these establishments engage in lucrative business, and in 2015, reported an income of $ 71.1 billion. It is also a dynamic employer with forward and backward linkages. According to the American Gaming Association, casinos provide direct employment to over 500,000 people and provide indirect employment to at least 1.7 million people.

Thus, even though gambling has an obviously negative impact, the industry, which is not regulated at federal level, in encouraged in many states. As Skolnik says, in 2009 and 2010, 37 states in the US “pushed for new or expanded gambling in order to bring in more revenue.” As he explains, “Legislators think gambling is a painless revenue stream that is better than raising taxes or making tough budget cuts.” They try to assuage their conscience by providing some of the revenue earned from gambling to prevent and treat gambling addiction, he says.

Nevada, with 334 casinos, has the largest number of casinos in any state, with the state’s hotel-casinos earning about 45% of the state’s income. Oklahoma which legalized gaming in 2004, has 134 casinos, while Colorado has 40 casinos, and California has the country’s most liberal of laws on gambling.

However, gambling is nothing new to mankind. The earliest material testimony to gambling was found in ancient China, where tiles unearthed indicated a primitive game of chance. Also found among unearthed artifacts of China around 200 BC, were some form of keno slips, indicating a kind of lottery to funds state work, probably the construction of the Great Wall of China. As many scholars agree, the first playing cards also appeared in China in the 9th century. Then again, ancient Greeks and Romans loved to gamble on all kinds of things, though gambling was banned in ancient Rome, and a penalty was imposed worth four times the bet, if any one was caught in the act. The two player card game of Baccarat was taken from Italy to France in the 1400s, and it is still played in casinos today.

Even though gambling was part of civilization from its earliest times, it has never been accepted as a positive activity in society. For, although it might boost the economy with large doses of cash, it takes a toll on society in the form of burglaries, spousal abuse, child abuse and negligence, bankruptcies, foreclosures, sometimes even suicide. It is generally believed that one bankruptcy will directly affect 17 people, and gambling addicts tend to commit crimes, lose their jobs and get landed in prison, becoming a social pariah for the rest of their lives.

Just as you realize down the road that steering clear of temptation brings a sense of stability, it is said that the best throw of the dice is to throw it away.


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