Statistic Data of Gambling Impact in The US

“Gambling is inevitable. No matter what is said or done by advocates or opponents in all its various forms, it is an activity that is practiced, or tacitly endorsed, by a substantial majority of Americans.” 1

Even the members of the previous federal study would be astounded at the exponential growth of gambling, in its availability, forms and dollars wagered, in the 23 years since they chose the words above to begin their work. Today, the various components of legalized gambling have an impact¾in many cases, a significant one¾on numerous communities and almost every citizen in this nation. The principal task of this Commission was to examine the “social and economic impacts of gambling on individuals, families, businesses, social institutions, and the economy generally.” 2

The numbers involved are staggering: “More than $50 billion spent on legal commercial games in 1997” 3 employing more than 600,000 individuals. 4 In 1976 only a few states allowed gambling; today, 47 states and the District of Columbia permit some form of gambling. 5 What is even more astonishing is how little is known and has been studied regarding the social and economic impacts of this diverse industry upon our nation. Despite the growing magnitude of the industry and the widespread involvement of a significant portion of the population, there is a paucity of research in this field. Much of what does exist is flawed because of insufficient data, poor or undeveloped methodology, or researchers’ biases.

It is evident to this Commission that there are significant benefits and significant costs to the places, namely, those communities which embrace gambling and that many of the impacts, both positive and negative, of gambling spill over into the surrounding communities, which often have no say in the matter. In addition, those with compulsive gambling problems take significant costs with them to communities throughout the nation. In an ideal environment, citizens and policy-makers consider all of the relevant data and information as part of their decisionmaking process. Unfortunately, the lack of quality research and the controversy surrounding this industry rarely enable citizens and policymakers to truly determine the net impact of gambling in their communities, or, in some cases, their backyards.

Many communities, often those suffering economic hardship and social problems, consider gambling as a panacea to those ills. Indeed, a number of communities plagued by high unemployment have found a form of economic renewal through gambling, particularly through the development of “destination resorts.” 6 In addition, state, local, and tribal governments have received substantial revenues from taxes on gambling enterprises and lottery receipts. However, there are costs associated with these decisions and gambling cannot be considered a panacea for all economic problems in a community.

To the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, “People are the common denominator of progress.” Economic progress can only be measured by its impact on individuals. Gambling’s impact on people represents an even more complicated and understudied area. Certainly, segments of the industry, especially the resort, hotel, and commercial casinos, provide jobs with good pay and benefits. The short and long-term social benefits of work, health care, training and education are undeniable. Some have argued that quality entertainment, in and of itself, is a social benefit to communities and individuals. 7

1 Final Report, Commission on the Review of the National Policy Toward Gambling, p. 1 (Washington: 1976). 2 Sec. 4 (a) (P. L. 104-169). 3 E. M. Christiansen, “An Overview of Gambling in the United States,” testimony before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, p. 2, Virginia Beach, VA (February 8, 1999). 4 Ibid., p. 7. 5 The exceptions are Utah, Hawaii, and Tennessee. 6 For the purposes of this document, “destination resorts” can be defined as “those tribal or commercial casinos that offer restaurants, retail, recreation, entertainment, and/ or hotels in addition to a number and variety of gaming opportunities.”