It is almost every day that we hear news about some rich and famous person who filed for bankruptcy because of their gambling problem and everyone knows at least one person from their surroundings who is struggling with the gambling addiction.
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These facts make some people think that gambling is a bad social phenomenon and as such it should be banned. Despite the widespread claims that gambling should be outlawed, I believe that doing so would result in an utter failure on several grounds and that gambling industry can be a substantial source of revenue for state and local governments; however, internet gambling is still not acceptable.
First off, those who support the idea of banning gambling in the United States launch the argument that it causes addiction. However, while it is true that some people might get addicted to gambling it does not follow that a social behavior should be banned on those grounds.
The list of behaviors and substances which are potentially addictive is getting longer by the day and if the government policy was to ban all of them very few substances and behaviors would still be legal.
Secondly, there is a claim among those who are in favor of outlawing gambling that outlawing something reduces its presence within a society. Nonetheless, the data shows that it is precisely the opposite correlation. The data we can use come from the famous case of alcohol prohibition in America from 1920 until 1933 where alcohol was declared completely illegal.
In his research, Mark Thornton (1991) shows that the consumption of alcohol was reduced with the passing of the law but it soon increased dramatically as soon as the illegal chains of supply were established. The author goes on to conclude that this is a very important lesson for those who propose outlawing such behaviors as gambling, abortion etc.
Thirdly, there is an argument that gambling causes crime and for that reason it should be forbidden. A study conducted by Earl (2000) indicates that 62 per cent of pathological gamblers were involved in illegal activities. While it remains only to recognize this as a fact, the question of whether this is a good reason to outlaw gambling is still open for the discussion.
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I would argue that because it has been shown that certain portion of population is genetically or environmentally conditioned to have problems with addictions of any sort and as it is the case with drugs the mere fact that something is illegal does not solve the problem at all.
In fact, if we were to ban gambling the problem would only be transferred completely in the illegal sphere into the hands of criminals, where those who have predispositions for socially detrimental behaviors would much more easily get the opportunities to be involved in worse crimes than those they would commit by themselves.
In addition, it seems worth mentioning that the vast majority of those who gamble occasionally on a recreational basis have complete control over the behavior and are in no way prone to committing crimes.
The forth very common argument proposed in opposition to legal gambling is related to the connection which casinos have with criminals. Although I have to admit that there is a grain of truth in this argument, I do not see the way in which banning gambling could solve the issue.
It is true that it will be far fewer big casinos but the demand that exists for gambling would, nonetheless, have to be met and the same criminals would act as suppliers of those services. Therefore, the act would result in strengthening the connections of gambling and mafia.
On the other hand, what might be proposed as a solution to the problem is an organized action on the part of the government to fight against corruption in the domain of gambling industry and to establish legal mechanism to control the flow of the money from the industry in such a way that it does not get used in criminal activities.
Finally, one crucial argument against outlawing gambling is related to economics. There is no debate over whether it is possible to eradicate gambling since it is deeply rooted in the society and culture, which means that the state should spend enormous amounts of money on enforcing the law and trying to capture those who break it but it would still exist as a social phenomenon.
On the other hand, leaving gambling legal as it is entails virtually no expenses on the part of the state and local governments, instead, it provides massive amounts of revenue on taxes since it is estimated that gambling industry has 90 billion dollars of profit each year.
Furthermore, I would suggest that the government invest funds in lotteries and similar games as they are a good way of making profit and providing jobs given the fact that the state economy is in deep crisis and the number of unemployed is very large.
Turning now to the question of internet gambling, the supporters of internet gambling would often say that banning it would mean reduction of internet freedoms which is the central part of the issue. However, while I admit that limitation of internet freedoms is in itself a bad thing, I would argue that it is a price we have to pay for preventing a greater problem which is mirrored in the fact that there is no way to control who is gambling online.
In their comprehensive study, Williams and Wood (2007) estimate the number of internet gamblers to be between 14-23 million (Williams & Wood, 16). It has to be recognized that the study was conducted in 2007 and the number is certainly even larger now but more importantly while we can estimate the number we can never know precisely who the gambler is which means that it can be an underage person or person with psychological issues.
Here an analogy might be made with selling alcohol to children which everyone recognizes as impermissible; however, there are mechanisms of control there so alcohol need not be banned altogether. In case of internet gambling there is still no way of solving that issue and for that reason it is better that internet gambling be illegal until such mechanisms are available.
In conclusion, the presented arguments clearly suggest that despite its addictiveness, gambling should remain legal because history has taught us that a legal ban does not solve the problem and economically speaking gambling is a very profitable industry. On the other hand, since there are no available mechanisms of controlling who is gambling online, it is probably the best to treat internet gambling as an illegal activity.
Grinlos, Earl. “Casino Gambling Causes Crime.” Policy Forum 13.2 (2000): 1-4. Print.
Thornton, Mark. “Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure.” Policy Analysis 157 (1991): 1-12. Print.
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Williams, Robert, and Robert Wood. Internet Gambling: A Comprehensive Review and Synthesis of the Literature. Ontario: Ontario Problem Gambling Research Center, 2007. Print.