Determining The Meaning of The Gambling Impact

Many witnesses before the Commission argued forcefully that gambling has been a good deal for hard pressed families and communities. In fact, if that were the whole story, our task would have been easy. What has made it complex is the fact that along with the real benefits of gambling, come equally undeniable and significant costs.

This Commission heard testimony about the growing numbers of individuals suffering from problem and pathological gambling, which often results in bankruptcy, crime, suicide, divorce, or abuse. While recent studies have attempted to “quantify” these costs to society, the Commission knows that no dollar amount can represent what a lost or impaired parent, spouse or child means to the rest of the family. Furthermore, many of these costs are hidden and it is difficult to quantify the emotional damage and its long-term impact on families and their children. As NORC indicated in its report, “In a number of respects the tangible impacts from problem gambling can be thought of as analogous to the economic impacts of alcohol abuse. In both situations, inappropriate and/ or excess participation in a legal and widely pursued leisure activity can exact an undesirable toll in individuals, family, friends, and the surrounding community.” In reality, it is these hidden costsĀ¾the emotional costs of addictive behaviorĀ¾that concern us far more than the annual economic expense of problem and pathological gamblers.

We recognize that some policymakers and citizens have struggled and continue to struggle with these sometimes conflicting impacts. Attempting to determine the appropriate course of action for their communities while considering the introduction, expansion, or restriction of gambling, is a difficult task. The Commission should begin by acknowledging that, at this time and based upon available information, we do not have a definitive answer for all those and challenge anyone who suggests otherwise. What the Commission does offer in this chapter is a process and factors to consider in assessing the benefits and costs of gambling and its implications for businesses and people.

As the Commission noted earlier, and as the Commission will explicate in other chapters, the gambling landscape is neither well-studied nor well-understood. Studies have often been generally parochial, limited, and fragmentary. To determine the impact of the various forms of gambling, the Commission has held hearings throughout the country, heard testimony on a number of relevant topics, reviewed thousands of articles and comments, and considered academic research. In addition, the Commission initiated new research through a number of projects, including studies by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) and an analysis of professional literature by the National Research Council (NRC).

The NRC project involved a review of all existing and relevant studies by representatives of a variety of scientific fields. In the end, NRC recommended that further study be initiated. Study of the benefits and costs of gambling “is still in its infancy.” 8 Lamenting past studies that utilized “methods so inadequate as to invalidate their conclusions,” the absence of “systematic data,” the substitution of “assumptions for the missing data,” the lack of testing of assumptions, “haphazard” applications of estimations in one study by another, the lack of clear identification of the costs and benefits to be studied, and many other problems, NRC concluded the situation demands a “need for more objective and extensive analysis of the economic impact that gambling has on the economy.”

7 David Ramsey Steele, “Gambling is Productive and Rational,” Legalized Gambling, For and Against, Evans and Hance, ed. 8 National Research Council, “Pathological Gambling: A Critical Review,” (April 1, 1999) at 5-18.