Is Legalized Gambling Worth the Costs?

The World and I, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Is Legalized Gambling Worth the Costs?


Legalized gambling has been used to finance various public works and private nonprofit institutions such as hospitals, colleges, and local school systems in America from the time of the landing of the first settlers. The method employed at that time was state-sanctioned lotteries. Today, all but a few states have some form of legalized gambling.

From the point of view of lawmakers and public officials, using gambling to raise money is attractive. Permitting various forms of legalized gambling--chiefly lotteries and casinos--and then taxing the resulting receipts at a high rate seems to avoid a political problem. Gamblers are willing payers; they submit voluntarily to playing the lotteries or to gaming in casinos. Thus, this method of raising money allows officials to avoid passing unpopular general tax measures, while still taking a great deal of money into the public treasury.

Many tribes of so-called Native Americans (formerly known as American Indians) have enjoyed enormous financial benefits in the past several decades through their sponsorship of gambling casinos on their reservations. They have been able to do this because their reservations have been held by the courts not to be subject to usual state laws.

Opponents of legalized gambling raise social, ethical, and financial objections to it. They claim, among other things, that these costs of legalized gambling far outweigh any supposed benefits. Some opponents say that gambling is morally objectionable even if it is financially beneficial.

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