US Public Interests VS Gambling

In addition to these relatively well-defined policing functions, a broader and far more important role for government regulation is determining the scope and manifestation of gambling’s presence in society and thus its impact on the general public. In this sense, regulation can be broadly defined to include the political process by which the major decisions regarding legalized gambling are arrived at, the corresponding legislation and rules specifying the conditions of its operation, and the direction given to regulatory bodies. Through such means as specifying the number, location, and size of gambling facilities; the types of games that can be offered; the conditions under which licensed facilities may operate; and so forth, governments have considerable control over the benefits and costs legalized gambling can bring with it. These measures can be as simple and straightforward as attempting to prevent underage gambling or as ambitious and contentious as promoting traditional social values.

If this basic responsibility is to be adequately met, government decisions regarding the introduction and regulation of legalized gambling would best be made according to a well-defined public policy, one formulated with specific goals and limits in mind. While governments have established a variety of regulatory structures, it is not at all clear that these have been guided by a coherent gambling policy or even that those making the decisions have had a clear idea of the larger public purpose they wish to promote. Generally, what is missing in the area of gambling regulation is a well thought-out scheme of how gambling can best be utilized to advance the larger public purpose and a corresponding role for regulation. Instead, much of what exists is far more the product of incremental and disconnected decisions, often taken in reaction to pressing issues of the day, than one based on sober assessments of long-term needs, goals, and risks.

There are a number of factors contributing to this gap between measures actually taken and any guiding public purpose, however conceived. One such factor is the existence of multiple decisionmakers: Federal, state, tribal, and local officials all have a say in gambling policy, and coordination among any of them is far more the exception than the rule. In addition, the gambling

industry is not monolithic; each segment— lotteries, Native American casinos, convenience gambling, and so forth— comes with its own particular set of issues, concerns, and interest groups, one result being that the respective regulatory structures and objectives often differ considerably from segment to segment. Further, the dynamism of the industry as a whole requires continuous adaptation on the part of regulation: In addition to a rapid pace of expansion, technology continues to produce new and different forms, often directly aimed at any weak links in government restrictions and regulation.

Far more worrisome than these factors, however, is that most government decisionmaking has been chasing rather than leading the industry’s growth and evolution and has often focused on less-than-central concerns, to the neglect of the larger public interest. One of the more damning criticisms of government decisionmaking in this areas is the assertion that governments too often have been focused more on a shortsighted pursuit of revenues than on the long-term impact of their decisions on the public’s welfare.

Not unexpectedly, the results of decisions regarding legalizing gambling often produce results that surprise even the officials responsible for making them. And not all of these results are positive. Without constant adaptation to this changing industry, time alone will produce a mismatch between the stated goals of government regarding gambling and the actual effects resulting from its decisions. Given the rapid accumulation of decisions regarding gambling, most of the respective governments— and certainly their respective communities— would be well-served by a thorough review of their public policy toward gambling. This review should focus on determining the specific public purpose regarding legalized gambling and an assessment, in that context, of the existing regulatory structure in its entirety: laws, rules, agencies, and so forth. The objective of this review is to identify what changes, if any are needed, with a goal to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the costs.