Time for The Pause in The Gambling Expansion
of the debate over gambling pits possible economic benefits against assumed social costs. What are the broad impacts of gambling on society, on the tenor of our communities’ lives, on the weakest among us? Because they inevitably involve highly subjective, nonquantifiable factors, assessing these is a more controversial exercise than the more pleasant task of estimating economic benefits. How can one ruined life be compared with the benefits provided to another? How can the actual costs of gambling-related crime be measured? Where is the algorithm that would allow the pursuit of happiness to be measured against the blunt numbers of pathological gambling?
Time for a Pause
It may be that the expansion of gambling accurately reflects the will of the people, as expressed in referenda, state legislatures, tribal reservations, and in Washington. The impressive financial resources already accounted for by businesses, workers, and public officials further strengthen the industry’s ability to voice its interests. This Commission, however, believes that gambling is not merely a business like any other and that it should remain carefully regulated. Some Commissioners would wish it to be far more restricted, perhaps even prohibited. But overall, all agree that the country has gone very far very fast regarding an activity the consequences of which, frankly, no one really knows much about.
In an attempt to better understand those consequences, this Commission has examined many issues, received testimony from hundreds of individuals and organizations, and deliberated over a period of 2 years. This broad ingathering of information and discussion of issues will be reflected in the following chapters, which outline the parameters of the many debates, discuss the available evidence, and offer recommendations. Inevitably for a Commission of such diverse makeup, some differences in viewpoint refuse to melt away and the existing evidence is insufficient to compel a consensus. But there is an encouraging breadth of agreement among Commissioners on many individual issues, such as the immediate need to address pathological gambling; and on one big issue: The Commissioners believe it is time to consider a pause in the expansion of gambling. The purpose of the pause is not to wait for definitive answers to the subjects of dispute, because those may never come. Additional useful information is, of course, to be hoped for. But the continuing evolution of this dynamic industry has produced visible changes even in the short lifetime of this Commission and indicates that research will always trail far behind the issues of the day and moment. Instead, the purpose of this recommended pause is to encourage governments to do what to date few if any have done: To survey the results of their decisions and to determine if they have chosen wisely.
To restate: Virtually every aspect of legalized gambling is shaped by government decisions. Yet, virtually no state has conformed its decisions in this area to any overall plan, or even to its own stated objectives. Instead, in almost every state whatever policy exists toward gambling is more a collection of incremental and disconnected decisions than the result of deliberate purpose. The record of the federal government is even less laudatory. It is an open question whether the collective impact of decisions is even recognized by their makers, much less wanted by them. Does the result accord with the public good? What harmful effects could be remedied? Which benefits are being unnecessarily passed up?
Without a pause and reflection the future does indeed look worrisome. Were one to use the experience of the last quarter century to predict the evolution of gambling over the next, a likely scenario would be for gambling to continue to become more and more common, ultimately omnipresent in our lives and those of our children, with consequences no one can profess to know.
The Commission, through its research agenda, has added substantially to what is known about the impact of gambling in the United States. The