With fewer young people gambling, time for a government rethink

Despite a proliferation of casinos and lotteries, fewer Americans are playing, especially those under 30. Now is a good time to question government backing of an industry that targets youths.

AP Photo
People play video lottery at Tioga Downs in Nichols, N.Y.

An old bit of wisdom – that gambling is only for people who never took math – may have finally hit home with Americans. According to surveys by researchers at the University at Buffalo, the number of gamblers and the frequency of their play have dropped since 1999 despite a recent proliferation of casinos and lotteries. Even more heartening, the largest falloff was among people under age 30 (from 89 percent to 78 percent). 

Unlike their elders, perhaps the younger generation knows the odds are never in their favor when they are up against the “Hunger Games”-like gambling industry. Or perhaps the thrill is gone with so many more gambling joints now an easy drive away for most Americans – or just a click away in many places.

The survey, published in the Journal of Gambling Studies, did find hard-core gamblers are betting more money and that Internet gambling has gone up. But policymakers – who generally promote gambling – should take note of the decline in interest among young people. For one, they still gamble far more often then their parents, despite the greater decline. Two, they are more prone to become problem gamblers. And three, the industry is now targeting that group with heavier promotion, especially to woo them off gaming on home electronic devices.

In a number of countries, including the United States, officials are trying harder to coax the industry not to advertise to adolescents. Governments also demand that casinos not allow underage people to enter. Officials also worry that software aimed at keeping children out of adult-only Internet gambling websites may not be effective.

With this trend of young people away from gambling, government should start to question its support of the industry (and its addiction to tax revenue from gambling). A recent statement from the group Stop Predatory Gambling sums up the best reasons to end government support:

“We mock the higher values that any good society depends on – honesty, mutual trust, self-discipline, sacrifice, concern for others, and a belief in a work ethic that connects effort and reward – when government tells its citizens every day that it is committed to providing ‘fun’ instead of opportunity; that a rigged bet is the way to achieve the American dream; and that spending one’s hard-earned dollars on scratch tickets is a form of good citizenship.”

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