A new study by the Harvard Medical School reminds us that the explosion of legal gambling in recent years has come at a price – a price paid in the currency of ruined lives. According to Harvard researchers, the number of pathological gamblers in the United States and Canada has risen from 2.2 million to 3.8 million over the last 20 years. This isn’t surprising. Since the late 1970s, most states have adopted lotteries and relaxed longstanding laws against Las Vegas-style games and betting machines. The United States has seen a nationwide proliferation of casinos, riverboats, slot machines and video gaming devices – and entrepreneurs have recently begun offering games on the Internet.
The industry, to its credit, is finally beginning to acknowledge that gambling isn’t merely a harmless adult entertainment. The new Harvard study was in fact commissioned by an industry group, the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which has been sponsoring serious research into gambling addiction.
But the spin some gambling advocates have put on the Harvard study is dismaying. The reaction of one Reno-based slot machine manufacturer was typical: “We certainly had a gut feeling in the industry that although there is a problem, it is not of any significance, and it’s good to see a confirmation of that.”
Only people blinded by profits and self-interest could be so oblivious to the human grief behind the Harvard numbers. An increase of 1.2 million compulsive gamblers may not add up to a national crisis, but it is a personal disaster for everyone involved – including the wives, husbands and children of the gamblers.
Gambling addicts are consumed by betting in much the way alcoholics are consumed by the bottle. Obsessed with the roulette wheel or the slot machine, they sacrifice jobs and …