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State gambling: Sin for thee—but not for me

HarshawnRatanpal · social issues · opinion · 10/03/2020 · edited

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With a long history of attempts to correct immoral behavior, the United States is home to some gambling restrictions. Whether these are justified, tyrannical, or somewhere in the middle, they are certainly complex.

A brief overview of gambling laws in the United States

There have been some recent changes to federal gambling regulations. The “Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act” had outlawed sport gambling nationwide since 1992 , but it was overruled by the Supreme Court in 2018 for violating the 10th amendment; they argued that the legality of gambling within a state should be a decision for the state

States are each allowed to set their own restrictions, regulations, and bans on different variations of gambling as they see fit. States vary wildly. Hawaii is one of two states where banning gambling in all forms statewide1, while Nevada is one of two states where casino gambling is legal statewide2. 

After understanding the side-effects of gambling, one may argue that the government has a responsibility to curtail it. Gambling is known to potentially cause a behavioral addiction, often dubbed “problem gambling3.”  This insatiable urge to gamble can lead to, among other symptoms, an overall decline of mental, interpersonal, and financial health. Like other vices that can sprout addiction after only a few seeds are sown, problem gambling can be absolutely destructive. Bearing this in mind, it might make sense why many state governments have taken a caretaker role in regulating gambling. 

This purpose of this piece is not to argue one way or the other, but to point out the glaring hypocrisy of many states.

I used to work at a convenience store/gas station in California, a state with sports4, non-Indian casino-style5, and private lottery gambling6 are prohibited. The store was in a poorer community with many destitute patrons that were barely able to make ends meet. Oftentimes, the prospect of being able to afford bread came down to a few cents -- a cost that the store regularly ate so that customers could. Along with the bare essentials, many customers regularly bought lottery tickets, courtesy of Calottery, the California State Lottery which was created with a 1984 vote7. Some regulars bought hundreds of dollars worth of tickets a day, regardless if they justified it by continuing a lucky streak or trying to get even after yesterday. 

Fourty-five states in the US have a state lottery system, and many of them ban private entities from creating their own. These state programs can cause problem gambling that births and festers addiction. One could argue that individuals are not forced to buy the lottery tickets and ought to be allowed to make the choice for themselves. However, this same argument should be made for the private forms of gambling that many states have banned. Why are government-issued lottery tickets readily available at most convenience stores but commercial and online gambling? It seems like a conflict interest if the entity that prosecutes certain types of gambling is allowed to host its own, especially considering that state lotteries earned $17.9 billion in profit in 2010 . This monopoly-esque behavior is entirely hypocritical. 

Bearing in mind both the potential side effects of gambling, as well the value of freedom to choose, either all gambling should be allowed or none should. Both are worth considering next time you visit a 7/11 or a ballot box.


1) https://www.casino.org/news/feds-broke-up-a-hawaii-gambling-ring-but-7-suspects-remain-at-large/#:~:text=Along%20with%20Utah%2C%20Hawaii%20is,scratchers%2C%20and%20no%20sports%20wagering.

2) https://lasvegassun.com/news/2000/aug/11/where-i-stand----bill-bible-protect-gamings-legacy/

3) https://www.ncpgambling.org/help-treatment/faq/



6) https://www.smc.edu/community/office-of-student-life/student-government/AS-and-ICC-documents/AS-State-Forms-and-Docs/ca-policy-raffles-etc.pdf

7) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayexpandedbranch.xhtml?tocCode=GOV&division=1.&title=2.&part=&chapter=12.5.&article=

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