Chapter 6
WHY PEOPLE GAMBLE A Sociological Perspective

MARY E. MURRELL

GAMBLING is an aspect of society that American sociologists have studied infrequently. Indeed, little theoretical work has included gambling, and until recently, survey data on the frequency of gambling and the characteristics of gamblers were virtually nonexistent. Perhaps the illegality of gambling discouraged its inclusion in theories of society since it was seen as a form of deviant behavior, rather than as a widespread activity occurring throughout society. Some criminologists noted the similarities between gambling and acceptable business practices ( Glaser, 1972; Bloch and Geis, 1970), but the major interest in gambling concerned arguments for and against decriminalization of "victimless crimes" such as prostitution, gambling, and drug use ( Packer, 1968; Morris and Hawkins, 1970).

With the increasing legalization and regulation, of gambling in the United States, gambling has become somewhat less identified with criminality and deviance but is still seen as a negative activity by many people. A study of high school students indicates that students view gamblers as most like gangsters, murderers, spies, and gunmen ( Burton and Romney, 1975). Joyce ( 1976) notes that broad survey questions about gambling get responses opposing the activity, but more specific questions which refer to a particular form such as betting on horse races or bingo, do not. There is obviously ambivalence in attitudes about gambling, and it has not become a completely acceptable form of recreation. However, a national survey conducted in 1975, found that the legalization of gambling appears to increase support and participation by citizens ( Kallick et al., 1976).

Perhaps, as legal gambling becomes more common in the

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