“Around 290,000 Australians are problem gamblers and account for over $3 billion in losses annually. This is disastrous not only for these problem gamblers, but also for the estimated 1.5 million people they directly affect as a result of bankruptcy, divorce, suicide and lost time at work.”-J. Howard, prime minister of Australia, 1999.
John, mentioned in the preceding article, became a problem gambler. He moved to Australia, where he got married to Linda, also a gambler. John’s addiction grew worse. He says: “I progressed from buying lottery tickets to betting on racehorses and gambling at casinos. I ended up gambling nearly every day. I sometimes gambled away my whole paycheck and had nothing left with which to pay the mortgage or feed the family. Even when I won a lot of money, I continued to gamble. It was the thrill of winning that hooked me.”
Individuals like John are not uncommon. Whole societies seem to have caught gambling fever. The magazine USA Today said that between 1976 and 1997, there was a staggering 3,200-percent increase in the amount wagered on legalized gambling in the United States.
“Gambling used to be considered a moral and social evil. Today it’s a socially acceptable pastime,” states the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. Identifying one reason for this change in public attitude, the paper says: “The image makeover is the direct result of what may be the most expensive and most sustained government-funded advertising campaign in Canadian history.” What impact have efforts to promote gambling had on some societies?
THE REAL MESSAGE IN LOTTERY ADS
“Promoting lotteries…may be viewed as values education, teaching that gambling is a benign or even virtuous activity,” say researchers at Duke University, in the United States, in a report submitted to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. What effect does lottery advertising really have on the community?
The report states: “It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the message of lottery advertising is a subversive one –that success lies in picking the right number. This perverse ‘education’ initiative being promulgated by the lottery agencies may have the ironic effect of reducing government revenues over the long run, by reducing economic growth. Specifically, if the lottery promotion erodes the propensities to work, save and self-invest in education and training, the consequence will eventually attenuate in productivity. In any case, betting on a miracle is not the formula for success we usually teach to our children.
AN EPIDEMIC OF PROBLEM GAMBLING
According to an estimate made by the Harvard Medical School Division on Additions, in 1996 there were “7.5 million Americans adult problem and pathological gamblers” and an additional “7.9 million Americans adolescent problem and pathological gamblers.”
These figures were included in a report compiled by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC), which was presented to the U.S. Congress. The report stated that the number of people with gambling problems in America might actually be significantly higher than recorded.
Because of job loss, diminished physical health, the payment of employment benefits, and the cost of treatment programs, problem gambling is estimated to cost U.S. society billions of dollars every year. This figure, though, does little to portray the human cost of problem gambling –the cost to families, friends, and workmates, resulting from theft, embezzlement, suicide, domestic violence, and child abuse.
An Australian study found that up to ten people can be directly affected by every problem gambler. A report from the National Research Council in the United States says that up to “50 percent of spouses and 10 percent of children experienced physical abuse from the pathological gambler.”
A CONTAGIOUS ADDICTION
Like some DISEASES, problem gambling can seem to spread from parent to child. “Children of compulsive gamblers are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and using drugs, and have an increased risk of developing problem or pathological gambling themselves,” states the NGISC report.
The report also warns “adolescent gamblers are more likely than adults to develop problem and pathological gambling.” Dr. Howard J. Shaffer, director of the Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addiction Studies, says: “There is an emerging body of evidence suggesting that illicit gambling among young people is increasing at a rate at least proportional to the opportunity to gamble legally.”
As for the potential for pathological gamblers to abuse the technology of the Internet, he says: “As smoking crack cocaine changed the cocaine experience, I think electronic is going to change the way gambling is experienced.”
The gambling trade is often portrayed as supplying harmless fun. But for adolescents, gambling can be as addictive as any illicit drug and can lead to criminal behavior. A survey in the United Kingdom found that among adolescents who gambled, “46 percent stole from their family” to support their habit.
Despite the foregoing facts, one influential gambling association justifies the promotion of gambling by saying: “The vast majority of Americans who enjoys gaming experience no problem whatsoever.” Even if you feel that gambling does not adversely affect your financial or physical health, what impact does gambling have on your spiritual health? Are there good reasons why you should avoid gambling? The following article will consider these questions.
GAMBLING AND THE SUPERNATURAL
In a report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, researchers at Duke University alluded to a link between the way gambling is advertized and belief in the supernatural. The report states: “Many [lottery] ads are unabashedly materialistic.
Yet this is not the materialism of hard work and perseverance but rather of genies and magnetic lamps, rooted in hopes, dreams, and superstition. And every lottery manager knows that many of his or her best customers base their bets on personal superstitions, astrological tables, self-styled seers, and the venerable ‘dream books’ that list numbers corresponding to names, dates, and dreams.
Rather than emphasizing that all numbers have the same probability of being selected and that playing popular numbers will reduce a person’s expected payoff in pari-mutuel games, lottery agencies have chosen to encourage players to choose ( and stick with) personally significant numbers.
“Gambling did not affect my physical health, and always controlled how much money I spent on gambling. But I admit that whenever I played a lottery game, I always chose what I considered to be my lucky numbers.” –Linda.
Many gamblers develop a belief in lucky numbers or lucky charms. They might not think that they take their superstitious beliefs very seriously, but they may persist with them nonetheless. Some gamblers even offer prayers to God, asking that he help them win their chosen game.
Many people view gambling as a socially acceptable pastime. But is gambling harmless entertainment? Or is it a deadly snare?
HOMES GAMBLING MACHINE
At a fraction of the cost of building new gambling establishments, gambling organizations now build Web sites that can turn any home with an internet connected computer into a virtual casino. In the mid-1990’s, there were approximately 25 gambling sites on the internet.
In 2001 there were more than 1,200 sites, and revenues from on-line gambling have been doubling each year. In 1997, gambling sites made $300 million on-line. In 1998 they made a further $650 million. In 2000, internet gambling sites earned $2.2 billion, and by 2003 that figure grew to $6.4million. Children of compulsive gamblers have an increased risk of becoming problem gamblers themselves.