Is Gambling Destructive to Society?

In this thread, a lengthy discussion has evolved concerning whether or not Bill Bennett is a hypocrite for having been a high-stakes gambler while simultanously publishing books extolling virtue and clean living - but not expressly condemning gambling in those books.

In the course of that discussion, holmes posted the following claim:

I thought this proposition was worthy of its own thread… namely, the idea that gambling is a social ill.

Needless to say, I don’t agree. While gambling can become a social ill for a particular person, so can, say, alcohol. But I would not view alcohol sales in general as a social ill, because the vast majority of alcohol consumers are able to enjoy the product in moderation and with no ill effects. So, too, with gambling: the vast majority of visitors to Las Vegas and Atlantic City come, gamble a bit, enjoy the sights, and leave.

I don’t agree that that legal gambling represents any sort of general ill to society.


(Please – this thread is about gambling as a social ill to society… not about the hypocrisy or lack thereof of Bennett. Thanks.)

Bricker Am I allowed to argue the spin-off effects of legalized gambling? Such as urban blight, increased crime, prostitution etc. or am I locked into the specific issue of gambling in and of itself?

And, are you counting the state runs lotteries as gambling?

Oh and what do you define as a social ill? Violence, death, loss of property, divorce, reduced property values in an area, increased taxes, increased traffic, increase in STD, due to increased sexual activity, increased drug activity, etc.

And how do you propose to ensure that gambling is the single cause of any of these social ills? Do we restrict ourselves to non-drinking, non-smoking, not socially disadvantaged in other ways gamblers only?

Sure. If those can be shown to reliably be caused by the introduction of gambling, they are absolutely fair game.

I think a fair definition of “gambling” would include state-run lotteries, but if someone wants to make a case for “slots/table games/casino” gambling ONLY being a social ill, I’m open to that. (Or the reverse: that state-run lotteries are social ills, but casino-type gambling is not). I doubt either either proposition is true.

Gambling is harmful to society simply because it gives politicians a chance to make it look like they’re helping the economy, while in reality doing nothing of the sort. There are plenty of idiots out there who think that building a casino or running a lottery will “generate money”, like a new factory would. No - it just moves money from one group of people to another.

So gambling is harmful because:

  1. Politicians claim it will be helpful;
  2. That help never materializes;
  3. And the lack of that help is harmful.


You’re not claiming that gambling hurts… but that it fails to help.

I’d be pretty careful arguing secondary effects. Has legalized gambling caused urban blight (how are you defining it) in Las Vega? Last I checked, it was one of the fastest growing communities in the country and was experiencing a buidling boom. Is there more crime in Las Vegas or Atlantic City per capita than in other areas? How 'bout Biloxi or other areas that have casino gambling? More prostitution?

The same arguement is usually made against adult businesses (strip clubs) etc, but I’ve found that the arguement doesn’t hold water when examined (there’s actually less crime and property values either stay the same or go up because of the increasd amount of traffic).

WRT lotteries, it’s often said they are a “tax on stupidity”. And it seems to be the case that a disproportionate percentage of the money they take in comes from those who are less well off. In terms of percentage of income, the take is strongly skewed away from the rich, so a lottery can be characterized as a regressive “tax”.

I believe gambling is less harmful to society than making it illegal and forcing it underground would be. (This is separate from the question of whether society would be better off if no one chose to gamble – I might be inclined to agree with that, given that a few people can’t handle it).

But I don’t advocate preventing those that can gamble responsibly from doing so.

I would argue that gambling, like alcohol and other such addiction certainly is a social ill and can cause damage to society as a whole.

But at the same time I’d posit that it’s a risk we, as a society, have decided to tolerate. We tolerate all sorts of things that are generally agreed to have negative consequences.

Gee, it has been a long time since I noodled over this one. (And I speak as a bit of a gambler myself.) I suppose it has to do with encouraging people to think they can get money for nothing.

Interesting thread. I probably have a unique insight into this issue, as my grandfather supported himself and his children through gambling for decades.

Of course, being a numbers runner, he wasn’t doing this legally. And he certainly wasn’t contributing to the betterment of society in general, even though he ran a clean and honest game, all cash up front. Nobody got their legs broken with him.

He got pinched a couple of times, but was able to avoid any real consequences for his actions. This experience, though, he deeply resented. He couldn’t see that what he was doing was any different from the state running a lottery, or a politically connected corporation running a casino or race track.

On this last one, he had an excellent point. Those same people who go to numbers rackets or casinos to bet the farm often do the same thing with the legal lotteries. When I was in college, I worked at a convenience store, and I’d regularly see people drop hundreds of dollars at a time playing this.

Gambling is a vice that provides society with no general good. However, it is a vice most people indulge in to some degree, and therefore should be tolerated and managed, not banned outright. Banning it only shoves it into an unregulated underground that unscrupulous people can exploit. Again, my grandfather proves that. For all of his personal rectitude, he was involved in an organization that was corrupt and corrupting.

And of course, any government that can bust my casual poker games is too powerful and invasive, and an affront to liberty in many other ways as well.

I view gambling as entertainment. Just as a visit to the opera may set me back $200, and leave me with nothing but enjoyment during the activity, and fond memory AFTER the activity, gambling is fun to do and fun to remember doing. I see it as similar to any other form of entertainment in this regard, with the added bonus that every now and then, it’s cheap, free, or even returns money.

I’d be very interested in seeing evidence of social ills such as prostitution being caused by, or increased by, the presence of legalized gambling.

You know, all in all I enjoyed gambling more when it was mostly illegal. A trip to Vegas was something special. Now it is an everyday thing in the US.

On the other hand, I will buy $100 in lotto tickets when I come home next week.

Hey that sounds familar…

Admittedly from a biased source:Family Values

What the Fed’s think (1999) Pdf

Perhaps you could also explain why prostitution is a social ill but gambling is not - after all, a visit to the whorehouse “may set me back $200, and leave me with nothing but enjoyment during the activity, and fond memory AFTER the activity, fucking is fun to do and fun to remember doing.”

For that matter, kindly tell us what definitions of vice, social ill, and morality you would submit to being held to in this discussion.

Gambling in general is not destructive to society. But in Bennett’s case it was an addiction and it was hypocritical for him to condemn other people’s addictions while he was doing nothing to control his own.