Wednesday, October 17, 2007

some thoughts on gambling...

I'm cross-posting my response to Alex Blaze on about gambling...

Gambling is not a tax. Gambling is a "service"-- a form of entertainment, enjoyed by many and not by others, vilified by some and not by others.

The lottery, in particular, is a form of gambling offered by governments. As is common, the government likes to establish monopolies (e.g., schools, post office). The govt lottery has some monopoly power-- as the only lottery available. But its monopoly power is limited in that other forms of gambling are easily available.

To reiterate what Alex said: The impact of gambling is regressive. From the research I've seen, the amount spent on gambling is surprisingly stable. But as Alex points out, as a percentage of income, gambling expenditures diminish as income rises (the definition of regressive).

Certain (but not all) contexts for and some (but not all) aspects of gambling are morally questionable or even bankrupt. As I have written about in my book, defining gambling turns out to be quite difficult-- and applying the definition consistently turns out to be frequently draconian and undesirable.

"A state lottery gives people maybe three seconds of 'fun', and what overpriced fun that is." The people who engage in gambling believe that it will do something "appreciably good for" them-- whether the prospects of monetary reward or the excitement in finding out. If not, they wouldn't do it! The other possibilities are they're "irrational" (unable to weigh benefits and costs) or the subjects of fraud (e.g., the govt lies about the odds).

Anyone, and especially anyone who has reason to fear persecution by the govt, is short-sighted to advocate restrictions on such activities. If we allow the majority to define the sorts of voluntary behaviors in which we can participate, we risk the same use of force against us some day. (It doesn't do any significant harm to others, but I can't imagine how that could be fun or good, so let's outlaw it.) Moreover, why not allow people the dignity of their own decisions, even if we don't understand or agree with them?

Alex concluded: "So, there. I agree with the Religious Right on something." There might be a few things on which you should agree with them, but that's not one of them! ;-)
I'll cross-post this at


At October 17, 2007 at 5:00 PM , Blogger Doug said...

I tend to think that government should see how far it can go as the sole source of gambling - government riverboats, government race tracks, government bingo, whatever.

I don't think we have a particular interest in having the market work its magic on gambling -- for example, expanding the gambling marketplace doesn't strike me as especially desirable. (Though, I admit, we'd lose somewhat in terms of generating a better product - a more enjoyable gambling experience).

From the government's perspective, why be content with a piece of the action when you can have the whole thing. From the taxpayer's perspective, I think voluntary contributions to government coffers (through gambling proceeds) would be wonderful if it offset contributions of the more usual involuntary variety.

At October 22, 2007 at 5:25 AM , Blogger David said...

Hi there,

I think that there is no harm in a little gambling here in there. As long as it stay as an entertainment form and not make people addicted. I love to play at online casinos occasionally. I don't spend much and even win sometimes. Anyway, I do this just for fun and not as an income. I believe that the most important thing in life is to find the balance and it's true also for gambling.

At October 22, 2007 at 10:08 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...


I'm not eager to see the market do its magic with gambling either. My position is negative (against govt activism) rather than positive (pro-market). As a Christian, I can't make a significant case for lobbying the government to restrict the freedom of others in this arena.

To your last paragraph: the government often aims for monopoly power-- whether lotteries, schools, or the post office.

At October 22, 2007 at 10:09 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

David, your view on gambling is consistent with a Biblical worldview.


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