The Gambling Boom—How Do You View It?
THE upsurge in legalized gambling has been phenomenal world wide. More than seventy-five countries operate lotteries, and other forms of gambling also flourish.
A number of Asian countries have recently legalized casino gambling. Modern casinos are also big attractions in Africa’s Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana.
Britain’s parliament in 1960 voted to legalize popular forms of gambling, including off-track betting and casinos. Australia has some 2,500 state-licensed bookmakers. The people bet more than $5.5 billion annually, which is more than the government spends on education, defense, housing, social services and welfare combined!
Some fifty million Americans gamble each year, betting anywhere from $30 billion to $100 billion, depending upon the estimate one chooses. The vast majority of this money is wagered illegally. Many states, however, are now stampeding to legalize lotteries, approve new racetracks and set up off-track betting.
By early 1974, eight states were operating lotteries, with at least four others about to open for business. New York city began legalized Off-Track Betting (OTB) in 1971, and many other places, too, may soon do so. Also, New Jersey, Maryland and Hawaii are said to be considering joining Nevada in legalizing casino gambling.
How is it that an activity, previously run almost exclusively illegally, is now being legalized?
WHY LEGALIZATION POSSIBLE
The change in public attitudes is largely responsible. A generation ago gambling even for “good” purposes was considered morally wrong. But that is not the way most people view it now. What about you?
Commenting on gambling’s growing acceptability, Newsweek observed: “The trend can be attributed partly to the general permissiveness of society; like alcohol, marijuana and sexual freedom, the institution of gambling is steadily losing its shock value and becoming accepted as a part of modern life.”
Some legislators have pushed hard for legalization. They argue that gambling is fun, and that governments, rather than criminals, should be receiving the money that people lose in payment for this fun. Major religions would apparently agree, as Episcopal priest William S. Van Meter notes: “Officially, the Episcopalians, Jews and Roman Catholics do not believe gambling is immoral.”
But what do you think? Is it really Christian, is it consistent with the Bible, to encourage an activity that has caused problems for so many persons? Some apparently feel that legalization is justified. They hope that, by legalizing gambling, illegal operations will be driven out of business.
Has this been occurring?
HURTING ILLEGAL GAMBLING?
Not long ago a National Science Foundation report noted: “State lotteries have had very limited impact on illegal gambling . . . The legal game is not sufficiently appealing to players of the illegal game to attract them away from it.”
Informed gamblers know that state lotteries pay back only a small return on every dollar bet compared to the return on the dollar bet illegally. Even New York’s OTB has taken very little important business from illegal bookies. Major bettors have stayed with them because of the advantages they offer. For example, winnings are tax free, bookies provide credit, and there are types of betting, such as parlays, numbers, and so forth, that legal operations do not offer.
Also, surprising perhaps to many, by far most illegal gambling is on football, basketball and other sports. And, there is no legal betting on these events. As a result, the legalizing of lotteries and OTB has had the effect of encouraging people to seek out such illegal gambling attractions. This was the finding of a recent New York Police Department study.
This study estimated that illegal gambling shot up by 62 percent in 1972. Chief Paul F. Delise explained: “A climate has been created to gamble. Because it now is possible to bet legally on horses, thousands of people who never in the world would have thought of betting on football or basketball or baseball are now betting with the bookies.”
A REAL BOOM
Some 200,000 persons now bet daily at New York city’s more than 120 new OTB parlors. About 23 percent of the city’s adults bet there. In 1973 they wagered some $691 million, with $800 million a projected estimate for this year. However, about twice this amount is bet in the city illegally! Some sportswriters estimate that more than half the football fans bet on the games.
“Betting has become so commonplace it’s the rule, not the exception,” laments Ruth Spirito of New York’s Northeast Bronx Community Council. It is similar in other countries where gambling has been legalized. “The level of gambling,” notes London’s Daily Mail, “is now so high it constitutes a social menace.”
Is gambling really a menace? What are its consequences?
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Inevitably gamblers, in time, lose. Irving Kristol, Henry Luce Professor of Urban Values at New York University, explains: “Gambling . . . is, technically, a swindle; the payoffs on bets must be less than fair, and the overwhelming majority of the ‘investors’ must eventually lose their money, if the gambling enterprise is to survive and prosper.”
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More than 75 countries operate lotteries