Although Virginia has historically been a gambling free state - minus the state lottery, charitable gaming such as bingo, and horse-track betting – it has been recently bombarded with a torrent of gambling expansion efforts. In March of this year, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe announced its plan to build a $700 million casino in the near future. In April, the governor signed a bill that legalized historical horse-race machines, devices which essentially function like slot-machines. Then, in May, the Supreme Court gave states the authority to regulate its own sports betting laws, which means that Virginia will soon face a strong push for its legalization. 

Consequently, even though gambling is not typically an issue on most Virginians’ radar, it is important to now give it thoughtful consideration as the gambling issue begins to loom large on the horizon. For a host of reasons, the recent move towards wide-spread gambling is dangerous and careless public policy.

First of all, the U.S. is already enduring a major gambling addiction problem, as nearly 10 million people struggle with a gambling habit.[1] A sudden expansion of gambling opportunities would dramatically exacerbate the problem. Studies have shown that the existence of a gambling facility roughly doubles the number of problem and pathological gamblers within 50 miles.[2] If the mere presence of a physical casino doubles gambling addiction, then one can only imagine the ramification of having access to gambling on a smartphone, which is exactly what could occur if sports betting is legalized. Combining the dangers of gambling with the instant access of smartphones would almost certainly lead to an explosion of gambling addictions. An increase in gambling addiction is of grave moral concern, since gambling addiction inflicts significant damage upon the individual, the family, and the common good of society. 

The consequences of gambling on pathological gamblers are often severe and difficult to remedy. Casinos thrive off of the losses of problem gamblers, which constitute about 35 to 50 percent of casino revenue.[3] It is no surprise, then, that many pathological gamblers are afflicted with crippling financial loss, including massive debt, bankruptcy, and even homelessness. Financial ruin, along with the other ramifications of gambling addiction, contributes to the high rate of suicide attempts for pathological gamblers.[4]

The second victim to fall prey to the harmful consequences of chronic gambling is the family. In addition to the obvious financial burden of mounting gambling debt, chronic gambling also creates tension and instability in the home. Many communities even report an increase in domestic violence and child neglect in correlation with the arrival of casinos.[5]  The financial, physical, and emotional problems drive many families to the breaking point, as 53.5 % of pathological gamblers have been divorced, compared to 18.2 percent of non-gamblers.[6]

Eventually, the problems of wide-spread gambling extend to the entire community. Studies have shown that casinos significantly increase crime, including robbery, aggravated assaults, auto theft, burglary, larceny, rape, and murder.[7] Also, due to a variety of factors, including the increased crime, each pathological gambler costs society about $9,393 per year.[8] In order to compensate for the increased financial burden of pathological gamblers, the government faces immense pressure to increase taxes.[9] Although they cannot be empirically measured, there are numerous other social consequences brought by gambling that can be clearly seen and felt by all.   

In view of these realities, a sudden and massive expansion of gambling would be a tremendously imprudent public policy decision. High stakes and easy accessibility are a lethal combination that would inflict considerable damage upon Virginia. While gambling may not be intrinsically immoral, it contains within itself an inherent capacity for substantial harm. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to curtail the expansion of gambling whenever the opportunity arises. If gambling is allowed to run free and unhindered, it will inevitably sink its teeth deep into the fabric of our society.

By James Rossi

James is a 2018 Summer Policy Intern at The Family Foundation and a student at Christendom College.

[1] https://theoakstreatment.com/gambling-addiction/gambling-addiction-statistics/

[2] https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ngisc/reports/4.pdf

[3] http://americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/why-casinos-matter.pdf

[4] https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ngisc/reports/7.pdf

[5] https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ngisc/reports/7.pdf

[6]https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ngisc/reports/7.pdf

[7] https://www.nh.gov/gsc/calendar/documents/20091117_grinols_mustard.pdf

[8] https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/144584.pdf

[9] https://repository.law.miami.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1218&context=umblr