Article  Human Dignity  Gambling

Issue Analysis: Casinos and Predatory Gambling

What is “predatory gambling?”

Predatory gambling is the practice of using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit. For-profit gambling, or commercial gambling, is illegal unless granted special legal exemption by the government.[1] Casino gambling, the most common form of predatory gambling, differs from other problematic forms, such as social gambling, because it leads to higher rates of addiction, promotes organized crime, leads to higher rates of gambling losses, and promotes vices which are sanctioned and protected by the state.

What are casinos?

A casino is a facility which houses and accommodates certain types of gambling activities. The industry that deals in casinos is called the gaming industry. Most games played in casinos have mathematically determined odds that ensure the casino always has an overall advantage over the players. In the United States, there are 462 casinos, which take the form of commercial casinos and tribal casinos.

Where are casinos located?

Throughout most of the twentieth-century, legal casino gambling in the U.S. existed in only two locations: Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Beginning in the 1990s, casinos spread across the nation at an accelerating pace. Today, 23 states have commercial casinos, a category which includes land-based, riverboat, dockside, and racetrack casinos. Many other states have casinos on Native American tribal lands. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, nearly every adult now lives within a short drive of a casino.

Why is casino gambling more predatory than other forms of gambling?

Casino gambling has become increasingly more predatory because of the popularity of slot machines. Unlike the old Vegas-style resorts, the new regional casinos depend decisively on attracting gamblers who live in the region, who return frequently, and who play modern slot machines. In 1978, outside of Nevada, there were virtually no legal slot machines in the United States. By 2010, there were about 947,000. In 2013, the percentage of casinos' total gambling revenue deriving from slot machines is estimated at 62 to 80 percent, with racinos (racetrack casinos) getting 90 percent of their take from slots.

Modern slot machines are programmed for fast, continuous, and repeat betting. Players insert plastic, not coins; they tap buttons or touch a screen rather than pull levers; they place bets in denominations ranging from a penny to a hundred dollars on multiple lines that spin across a screen with each rapid tap of the button. The laws of pure chance or probability no longer dictate wins and losses on slot machines. Modern slots are hooked up to a central server that collects player information, preferences, and speed of play and has the capacity to program each machine to each player's style. The trend in slot design is to provide a slow and smooth “ride,” with small wins that are less than the amount bet, but nonetheless encourage repeat bets and prolonged “time on machine.”

Overall, problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so. A large-scale study in 2004 also found that people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of pathological and problem gambling as those who do not.

What groups are most affected by predatory casino gambling?

Casino gambling was once a largely upper-class activity. Today, low-income workers, retirees, minorities, and the disabled include disproportionately large shares of regional casino patrons.

According to a study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, the poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling. In areas with the highest “neighborhood disadvantage” – determined by census factors such as the percentage of people who were unemployed, received public assistance, and/or live in poverty – more than 11 percent were problem gamblers, compared to just 5 percent in neighborhoods ranking in the top fifth of economic advantage.[2]

Casinos are also targeting older Americans. One third of the U.S. population visited a casino in 2012 and more than half were fifty years or older. Casinos often prey on older customers by catering to their special needs, providing wheelchairs, scooters, adult diapers, and other amenities for customers with mobility and health problems.  This manufactured “kindness” is especially appealing to people who are lonely and isolated from the larger community.

 According to researcher Amy Ziettlow, gambling addiction experts and researchers have found that the very situations seniors encounter as they age, such as loneliness, the death of a spouse, loss of mobility, and loss of employment, make escaping into the “machine zone” of the slots an attractive form of relief. Like any type of addictive behavior, it can be “a way for many people to anesthetize their pain.” Scholars claim that “the new face of problem gambling in America is a senior woman who has lost a spouse or become alienated from her children, but has embraced slot machines and quite rapidly develops an addiction.”[3]

How does casino gambling affect communities?

Gambling has a detrimental impact not only individuals but also on families and communities. A study of members of Gamblers Anonymous found that upwards of 26 percent have gambling-related divorces or separations. And a study that looked at the spread of casino gambling in 300 Metropolitan Statistical Areas found that the presence of a casino reduces voluntarism, civic participation, family stability, and other forms of social capital within 15 miles of a community where it is located.

One of the most unfortunate consequences from casinos is that along with them tends to come a rise in crime. Of all the crimes associated with communities around casinos, one of the most prevalent is the sex trafficking of minors.[4]

What can be done to stop the spread of predatory casino gambling?

Casino gambling is a form of predatory business that is allowed to operate by state governments. States typically legalize casino gambling by changing state constitutions. They create regional monopolies for the casinos, provide minimal oversight and regulation, and rescue casinos from bankruptcy. In short, without the legal, administrative, regulatory, and promotional advantages provided by state governments, casinos would not be spreading into mainstream American life as they are today and would likely still exist only on the fringes of the society.

To stop the spread of predatory gambling, Christians can:

  • Lobby their state legislators to oppose any expansion of casino gambling and/or to roll back current laws authorizing legal gaming.
  • Persuade local governments to enact regulations that prevent casinos from targeting vulnerable groups, such as minorities, the elderly, and the poor.
  • Promote awareness within their churches and communities about the harms of predatory gambling.

[1] “What is ‘Predatory Gambling’”, Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation. Retrieved from

[2] “People in poor neighborhoods are twice as likely to have gambling problems,” ScienceBlog. Retrieved from

[3] “Seniors in Casino Land: Tough Luck for Older Americans,” Amy Ziettlow.

[4] “Regions With Casinos See Increase Sex Trafficking Among Minor,” Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation. Retrieved from

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