On State-Supported Gambling

What if I were to tell people that there was a state-supported, even state-funded, addiction in the United States?

Well, such is the case with gambling, at least in many states in the United States.

One of the popular suggestions these days, as a means of raising revenue, is to propose the building of casinos or other state-supported gambling. “They will help pay for making our schools better,” some of our politicians say. “They will pay for themselves and support the local economy.”[1]

So, how does state-supported gambling turn out? If you guessed “not well at all,” then you’d be correct. I can provide many examples, but I will highlight three in particular for the sake of brevity:

  1. For years, New York State has had off-track betting corporations (OTBs). They were created with the promise of reducing illegal betting while bringing in revenue. I don’t know if they reduced illegal betting, but OTBs failed so miserably at the revenue part that their financial conditions have worsened significantly, according to…the New York State Comptroller.[2] So much for revenue.
  2. Colorado casinos were also created with the promise of bringing in revenue. Well, that’s also not happening. Actually, Colorado casinos are reportedly “investing in themselves” in order to try and bring revenue.[3]
  3. On numerous occasions, California has endured budgetary woes. On many of those occasions, it was promised that some new revenue stream from gambling would help pay for the budget woes. However, on numerous occasions, expansions in gambling did not do what they promised to do—increase revenue.[4]

As a result of this state-supported gambling, we end up with a bunch of broken promises. But it’s more than broken promises. We end up with people, and entire families, broken because of the proliferation of gambling addiction as a result of these casinos and other gaming mechanisms. We end up with governments scrambling to find other means to raise revenue, since casinos don’t do that job. And we end up with an oversaturation of the gaming industry, which does nobody any favors and results in shuttered casinos.

Instead of state-supported gambling, I make two policy propositions. First, states should curtail further support of gambling, because the fiscal and social costs of gambling seem to outweigh any money it is supposed to bring in.[5] Second, states should support Gamblers Anonymous programs. Gambling is an addiction that must be taken seriously, and all of us, including governments, should act as such.

State hotlines for gambling addictions can be found here: https://www.verywellmind.com/usa-local-problem-gambling-hotlines-22031


[1] These are not the exact words of someone who has made a pro-casino argument, but I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed by pro-casino politicians in the past.

[2] https://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/pubs/research/otb0915.pdf

[3] https://www.cpr.org/2018/11/21/flat-revenues-and-tough-competition-the-tricky-hand-colorado-casinos-are-dealt/

[4] https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-road-map-california-gambling-betting-revenues-20190303-story.html

[5] I don’t recommend making gambling illegal, because then gambling would be unregulated and problematic in other ways. However, further heavy investment in casinos and the like should stop.