Predatory Gambling and the Potential for Change


There are not too many areas in 2016 America where it is easy to find ideas and policy areas that can get bipartisan support.  This is one area that is an exception worth investing in. Conservatives of a more religious orientation have often been leading the charge against lotteries and gambling for a long time. John Oliver, not exactly a prototypical Republican, has addressed the problem of lotteries in particular.

Now, The Atlantic is taking a critical look at Casinos.  It is long, but it is essential reading.  The narrative of Scott Stevens is worth absorbing, but I’ll highlight a few of the details on the casino industry that struck me.  Here is Rosengren on the scope of gambling addiction in our country:

Even by the estimates of the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which was founded by industry members, 1.1 to 1.6 percent of the adult population in the United States—approximately 3 million to 4 million Americans—has a gambling disorder. That is more than the number of women living in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer. The center estimates that another 2 to 3 percent of adults, or an additional 5 million to 8 million Americans, meets some of the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for addiction but have not yet progressed to the pathological, or disordered, stage. Others outside the industry estimate the number of gambling addicts in the country to be higher.

Rosengren goes on too talk about how much the industry depends on addicts:

Problem gamblers are worth a lot of money to casinos. According to some research, 20 percent of regular gamblers are problem or pathological gamblers. Moreover, when they gamble, they spend—which is to say, lose—more than other players. At least nine independent studies demonstrate that problem gamblers generate anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of total gambling revenues.

Rosengren then goes on too produce a laundry list of ways Casinos identify who the problem gamblers are and too ensure that they spend as much money as possible.  It is not a pretty picture, but it incredibly enlightening.

Recently, with some of my spare time over Thanksgiving, I have been reading Culture Making, by Andy Crouch.  It is a good read as well, and I may write more about it in the future, but one of his points that I have had churning in my mind the past few days is that when push comes to shove, as much as we talk about the idea of “changing the world”, it is rare that any of us in fact can or are even called to enact global change.  Where we do have influence is in smaller, concentrated spheres.  What Rosengren is writing about here is a sphere that might not seem large or significant, and one where reforms may seem unlikely, but one that presents an opportunity for incremental change that betters our communities and presents an opportunity to impact lives for the better.

This is particularly true given that there is a possibility to form a diverse coalition of unusual allies on the issue.  There’s potential here that gambling is slowly evolving into a social justice issue that the culture views as more along the lines of pornography and human trafficking, where Christians of differing political persuasions have joined alongside many different interest groups to draw public awareness and take action on these issues.  Rosengren highlights why it is imperative that we must strive for similar success on the issue of gambling.


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