Gambling’s hype

As the global gambling market grows to a predicted $1 trillion market, many operators are pushing ads with false promises of easy riches. Such deceit shows why governments must encourage living by talent, education, and hard work, not a belief in luck.

Mitsu Yasukawa/The Record of Bergen County via AP
Daniel Sewnig, 25, of Fair Lawn, N.J., a professional online poker player, plays multiple games online simultaneously at his home.

In the next four years, the world gambling market is expected to reach $1 trillion, up from $690 billion last year, according to Technavio, a research firm. One reason is a rapid rise of online gambling, especially among young men on digital devices. But another reason is more aggressive promotion. To attract new “players” in a booming and competitive market, Technavio reports, gambling operators – which include both government and private firms – must offer “unique value propositions.” 

Exactly what are such new propositions?

A good example is a recent TV ad by NetBet online casino in Britain. It depicted people doing humdrum activities until they start betting on NetBet’s mobile app. Suddenly they were holding bags of money, sitting in a hot tub, or walking toward a yacht and helicopter. The word “jackpot” kept popping up.

The ad’s false promise of sudden riches was too much for a British watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ad was banned for glamorizing gambling, notably by suggesting that gambling could enhance “personal qualities,” such as financial security and self-image.

“It implied that their lives had changed as a result of the win,” stated the ASA in a ruling. Just last June, the agency had to ban another TV ad, which showed a common man named Michael turning into “roulette rock star riding an electric riff of red and black.”

In the United States, many states that face declining revenues from lottery sales are spending more on advertising while also becoming bolder in attracting younger people, who tend to avoid buying lottery tickets. Iowa’s new lottery slogan, for example, is “Woo hoo for you.” (Woo hoo is a sound often coming from slot machines when someone wins.) The slogan also shows an upward shooting star, implying success. In many states, lottery officials also try hard to get media publicity for big winners while ignoring the millions who lose money, many of whom are poor or addicted to gambling.

Just this week, in a failed court challenge to a 2009 Ohio law allowing casinos, a county judge reminded everyone of a primary purpose for government in controlling – not promoting – the gambling industry. “Gambling is a vice that may be limited, restricted or banned by the state in its entirety ... in order to preserve the public’s health and welfare,” wrote Judge Chris Brown.

Deceitful and predatory promotion of gambling, especially by a government, is hardly new. In the 18th century, philosopher Edmund Burke warned against governments that push gambling and a belief in luck as an easy road to wealth. He said governments should not “divert the whole of the hopes and fears of the people from their useful channels, into the impulses, passions, and superstitions of those who live on chances.”

That’s good advice in an age when smartphones and false impressions about jackpots are driving up the global gambling market to $1 trillion.

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