Myth: Predatory Gambling is About Personal Freedom

Casino owners and often times, public officials make the claim that casinos represent “personal freedom,” as they argue that the act of gambling itself is a choice.  According to them, it’s a “voluntary act.”

That’s not the whole story.   Government, in this case, is not merely permitting private, consensual behavior. It is granting monopolies and awarding regulatory advantages to these off-reservation casinos.  Government is picking the winners and the losers as they make sure they are the first in line for the winner’s club.

This has little to do with limited government. It is the active, predatory state.  The predatory gambling business model is dependent on addicted or heavily-indebted citizens and it only works if our government, in its role as promoter and regulator, takes away the freedom of millions of Americans.

By definition, someone who is an addict or someone who is deep in debt is not free. They have lost their free will and their freedom to choose. In a country where everyone is considered equal, where all blood is royal, how can the state actively promote a government program that renders some of our fellow citizens as expendable? John Stuart Mill, the father of the libertarian vision, famously wrote that each individual has the right to act as he wants so long as these actions do not harm others. (Stop Predatory Gambling).

Casino gambling has become increasingly more predatory because of the popularity of slot machines.  Their business model depends upon attracting gamblers who live in the region, who return frequently and who play modern slot machines.  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.’’

Overall, problem gamblers account for 40 – 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade.    A large scale study conducted by Research Institute on Addictions found that people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of problem gambling than those who don’t.

As cash-strapped states increasingly turn to gambling for revenue, some casinos are resorting to devious methods to keep vulnerable gambling addicts coming back.  “Casinos are so good at what they do they exacerbate a gambler’s addiction. Think of an alcoholic who’s six months sober—except that Johnnie Walker knows his habits, and just when the physical craving passes, a case of Blue Label lands on his doorstep.” (read more here)

Government and casino operators are stacking the odds in their favor.  They will be the last to lose.