Does Gambling Promote the Common Good?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Lately I’ve been seeing more advertising for the North Carolina State Lottery.  I guess lottery revenues aren’t where they need to be to fund state initiatives.  When the NC legislature legalized the lottery, the taxpayers were assured that all lottery revenue would go to the education budget, but as soon as the recession hit a couple years ago, that promise went out the window – entirely predictable.

The state lottery has got me thinking about gambling again.  Is gambling  good for society?  Does it promote the common good?  Not according to an article written in First Things by journalist Maura Casey.  Below are a few excerpts from the article, which I recommend reading in its entirety.

How are things in Las Vegas, Nevada, the gambling capital of America?

Las Vegas, then and now, struggles with high rates of suicide, dropouts, childhood problems, and low educational attainment. Later studies again confirmed those early concerns: In 1997, a study of death certificates in Reno, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City found those cities had suicide rates that were up to four times higher than in cities of the same size where gambling was not legal.

How about Connecticut?

A friend of mine told me that to escape the burdens of motherhood she would go to the casinos at 2 A.M. to gamble until 6:30 A.M., when she would go back home and get her kids ready for school. Until the day she didn’t go home in time—unable to stop playing the slots. A worried state legislator called to tell me her husband emptied her sixteen-year-old son’s college fund to gamble at the casinos. A bank manager told me about a customer who inherited $1 million and—aided by using the ATM machines at the casino to withdraw money—gambled it all away. A woman who worked at my daughter’s day care moved her family to Florida in a desperate attempt at a geographic cure after her husband drained money from his ten-year-old’s savings account and couldn’t stop going to the area casinos.

More on Connecticut:

Several men have held up banks to get more money to gamble. And the region around Connecticut’s casinos has suffered significant rates of drunken driving, which the state has only begun to acknowledge is due in part to the free alcohol that flows to gamblers. Two fatal drunken-driving crashes this spring made the link impossible to minimize. In one of them, Daniel Musser allegedly drove the wrong way down Interstate 395 after getting drunk at Mohegan Sun casino. His car struck a van carrying Connecticut College students en route to the airport to bring medical supplies to sick children in Africa. The crash killed twenty-year-old Elizabeth Durante, a premed student who had led the campaign on campus to help the less fortunate. A second fatal crash by a Mohegan Sun patron one month later led the casino to reduce, from three to two, the number of free drinks an hour available to gamblers.

Are state or local governments concerned?

Most of all, government has become predatory in its use of gambling as a worry-free method of increasing revenue without raising taxes. Indeed, the states have moved from granting permission to cheerleading. Government boosterism has legitimized gambling, eroding what few moral scruples remained on the part of average people against engaging in a behavior that, just a few decades ago, would have been considered largely unacceptable.

What about slot machines?

Along the way, the casinos paid for considerable research into how to increase the length of time gamblers stay at the machine—since the longer that patrons play, the more they lose and the more casinos profit. The chairs at slot machines are ergonomically designed to be comfortable, with no hard edges that could decrease leg circulation, Schull observes. Screens slant at 38 degrees to prevent slouching. Game controls are within easy reach, as are computerized menus to have food and drink delivered without leaving the machine. Some have television monitors to keep players from exiting the area to catch their favorite shows. Slot machines have many different themes, mimicking game shows, cartoons, or favorite sitcoms. The sound of jingling coins, the bells, the volume of noise, the flashing lights are all designed to encourage patrons to play, and play, and play.

Maura Casey, in the article, provides other interesting data on casinos and their impact on the regions where they are located.  For me,  I must admit that I’ve never understood the attraction to gambling.  I’ve never enjoyed casinos, and I’ve always found slot machines to be incredibly boring.  My friends who gamble tell me how much fun it can be, and that they are careful to limit their losses, but I just don’t get it.  After reading Maura Casey’s article, I really don’t get it.

  • Mick Curran

    Any believer who thinks carefully about gambling – what it is and what it does – should perhaps also consider whether a pro–gambling stance is commensurate with a credible claim to love one’s neighbor. I don’t think it is. For a kick–off, gambling does affect my neighbor. My winnings come at the expense of my neighbor’s losses. That’s the way it works, right? Indeed, how can it be any other way? Well, then, is it a demonstration of love for me to desire my neighbor’s loss in order that I can gain? That sounds to me very close to a definition of selfishness.

    And what about the effect on my neighbor, once he (or she) has lost his money? One of the popular visions of gambling is of the “high rollers,” that are portrayed in the movies and on television. These are usually people of wealth who can afford to lose large sums of money. So we don’t feel bad for them when the cards or the dice don’t go their way. But I suspect the gaming industry knows these people are not their “bread and butter” and that it’s the “little people” they go after. The little people with the small stakes – the people that can’t afford to lose their hard–earned money – who are lured by the gaming industry with visions of striking it rich. Gambling is touted as the ticket out of poverty offering a last chance to riches. As such it overtly preys upon the poor by peddling false hope.

    Gambling feeds on the sin of greed, is addictive and enslaving, exploits those who are most vulnerable, and evidently provides a fertile ground for a host of other sins. So I don’t think gambling is in the pro bono publico category.

    And the only reason I watch Wheel Of Fortune is because my wife likes it. 😉

  • MJM

    I agree. Very well said.