The Economic Impact of Gambling


Gambling involves placing something of value (usually money) at risk on an event with an element of chance. This is done in exchange for the possibility of winning a prize, which can be anything from merchandise to cash or services. Gambling includes activities such as lotteries, horse racing, keno, bingo, casino games, dice, slots, scratch tickets, sports betting, and other similar events. Gambling is a form of entertainment that can be both pleasurable and dangerous. In some cases, gambling can also lead to addiction. This can be a serious problem and it is important to recognize when someone has a problem. There are several ways to get help for a gambling addiction, including therapy and medication.

It is estimated that over 2.5 million U.S adults (1%) have a severe gambling disorder. Another 5-8 million (2-3%) have a mild or moderate gambling problem. These problems are more common among men than women. The most serious gambling problems involve individuals who engage in risky, uncontrolled behavior that negatively affects their lives and those of others. The underlying causes of these problems are complex, but include a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and social factors.

Some of the most difficult effects to identify and quantify are those related to gambling. These effects are often referred to as “intangible” and are often omitted from economic impact studies (Grinols and Omorov, 1995). Intangible costs and benefits are difficult or impossible to measure in dollar terms, and they can vary widely across time and gambling venues.

Many of these intangible effects are related to the negative psychological and financial impacts of pathological gambling. Some of the most significant negative impacts are: (1) the loss of family, friendships, and other important relationships; (2) self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness; (3) a decrease in energy; (4) lying to therapists or others to conceal the extent of gambling involvement; (5) committing illegal acts such as forgery, theft, embezzlement, and fraud to finance gambling; (6) relying on family members to bail them out of jail; (7) suicide.

Other intangible costs are those associated with the indirect economic and social impacts of gambling. These include the cost of criminal justice system, social service, and productivity costs. In addition, there are costs related to the destruction of wetlands or other environmental resources.

Some of these externalities can be offset by a gambling industry’s contribution to local economic development and tax revenue. In addition, a number of other economic impacts can be mitigated through policies such as regulated pricing for gambling and the use of insurance to shift risk from gamblers to the gaming industry. This is analogous to the way in which insurance premiums are set using actuarial methods, which can be used to predict long term probabilities, much like the way professional gamblers select their wagers. This type of risk-sharing can reduce the social and economic costs of gambling while still allowing gamblers to enjoy its recreational and entertainment benefits.

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