The Economic Effects of Gambling

Gambling involves placing money or material goods on a random event, such as the roll of a dice or the outcome of a race, with the intent to win something else of value. The concept of chance and risk are fundamental to gambling, and it is this element that has historically given it a negative reputation and legal ramifications.

Some people find gambling a fun and exciting pastime, but for many people, it can have serious consequences that affect their health, relationships, work performance and overall quality of life. Problem gamblers can experience financial hardship and homelessness, which can have a ripple effect on family and community members. Gambling can also negatively impact their physical and mental health, causing stress, anxiety, depression and feelings of shame or guilt. Despite the negative effects, it is important to remember that there are resources available for help.

A person may develop a gambling disorder for any number of reasons, including stress, boredom, low self-esteem, or loss of control of impulses. Young people and men are particularly susceptible to gambling problems, and those who start gambling as teenagers or young adults are more likely to develop a gambling addiction than those who begin later in life. People with low incomes are at particular risk because they have less to lose than those with more wealth and can be easily lured by the promise of a large payout.

The most common sign of a gambling disorder is an inability to stop gambling, even when losses exceed income. Other symptoms include lying to family and therapists about the extent of involvement in gambling, engaging in illegal acts to fund gambling (such as forgery, fraud or embezzlement), using credit cards for gambling purposes and relying on others for money to pay for gambling expenses. It is estimated that one in seven problem gamblers files for bankruptcy. (American Psychiatric Association 2000). Published news accounts and bankruptcy court opinions serve as the primary sources of information on the financial effects of gambling, but these reports are anecdotal, region specific and often poorly documented.

Gambling can have positive economic impacts in the form of revenue, jobs created and taxes paid. However, intangible benefits and costs are typically omitted from the scope of gross impact studies and are difficult to measure or quantify in dollar terms. This omission is a major shortcoming of these types of studies. Fortunately, significant progress is being made to bring the full range of benefits and costs into the equation. For example, a casino facility may require the destruction of a wetland, which could require that land be restored somewhere else in compensation. In the future, such considerations will be incorporated into gambling-related economic impact analyses. (Fahrenkopf 1995; Meyer-Arendt 1995). These approaches will provide a more balanced perspective of the total economic impacts of gambling.