What’s Predatory Gambling?
Predatory gambling is when government uses gambling to cheat and exploit citizens, ultimately forcing the taxpayers who don’t gamble to foot the bill for the long-term public budget problems that result.
For-profit gambling is illegal unless the government gives its full support and in nearly every instance, operates in partnership with gambling interests, whether in the form of state lotteries, commercial and tribal casinos, or if the latest lobbying push is successful, online gambling.
This partnership has presented “problem gambling” to opinion leaders and the public as the measure of predatory gambling’s harms (“it’s just a few citizens who will be hurt,”) willfully ignoring the financial damage and other inequalities it creates.
It’s a mathematical certainty the more citizens spend on gambling sponsored by the government, the more money they lose. At the same time, gambling operators and public officials go to extreme lengths to lure citizens into forms of gambling literally designed so that they cannot stop, exploiting aspects of human psychology and inducing irrational and irresponsible behavior. The best examples are lottery scratch tickets, Keno and especially, electronic gambling machines.
Today, the electronic gambling machine has become government’s preferred method of extracting money from citizens through gambling. Slots make up to 80% of gambling profits.
Every feature of a slot machine – its mathematical structure, visual graphics, sound dynamics, seating and screen ergonomics – is designed to increase a player’s “time on device” – which means how long a person plays. Gambling operators found that their profits were not about the size of the gamblers’ stakes but rather the volume of their play. “If you provide them with the right time-on-device, they will stay and play,’” one slot designer said to MIT Professor Dr. Natasha Schull in her recent book on slot machine technology titled Addiction By Design. “If you take it too quickly and they lose, they’re going to leave.’”In the actual language of the casino business, the goal is to get every user “to play to extinction’’ — until all their money is gone, Dr. Schull quotes a slot marketing expert.
While most people understand lotteries are an extension of government, many citizens don’t fully realize that the same is true for casinos. Casinos are the creation of state government and its public policies. (Tribal casinos are also the creation of government – the federal government – and its public policies.) They are instituted to create a new revenue source separate from direct taxation and in the process, they create regional monopolies for the casinos. They regulate with a finger on the scale, looking to maximize revenues and often in ways that discriminate against other legal businesses. They rescue casinos from bankruptcy. Without the legal, administrative, regulatory, and promotional privileges provided by state governments, casinos and lotteries would not be spreading into mainstream American life as they are today and would likely still exist only on the fringes of the society.
How is government’s public policy of predatory gambling different than social gambling like the office Super Bowl pool or a Friday night poker game with the guys in the neighborhood?
1) The speed of the games.
2) The “buzz” or high people get when they play.
3) The frequency of gambling and the length of time doing it.
4) The amount of money people lose.
5) The business practices used to promote it.