The term gambling finds usage in many situations, which have an element of uncertainty. These vary from placing bets, participating in the lottery, stock market speculation, and even insurance and other forms of risk taking such as sky diving. In a strict sense for an event to qualify as gambling, the participants must have no further interest beyond the immediate financial reward based on the outcome of the event.
The reasons why people gamble vary from simple recreation to using it as a get rich quick strategy. In some cases such as in lotteries, the financial reward is incidental and secondary because the participants drive is to help raise funds for the course the lottery promotes. In some contexts, there is interchangeable use of the term gaming and gambling.
Gambling may be either legal or illegal. Legal gambling takes place under the watchful eyes of the authorities in places such as casinos. Other forms of legal gambling include lotteries and sports based bets where a bet is placed on such elements as which team stands the chance to win a particular match. In these situations, the government defines the rules within which gambling is legal and collects revenue from the activities. It is normal to have a body charged with overseeing the operation of gambling activities.
On the other hand illegal gambling takes place in secret. In actual practice, some illegal betting rings facilitate betting on a game or situation over which there is a legal gambling option. Illegal gambling stakes a lot more and promises better rewards for those involved- should they win.
Illegal gambling operations are the target of law enforcement agencies since they tend to promote other unacceptable situations such as match fixing, and whenever a participant does not meet their obligation due to the gamble, then they risk subjection to extralegal means such as extortion and gambling to compel them to pay up.
This happens because it is impossible to seek legal redress for a default arising out of an illegal activity. It is because of the negative possibilities that Grinols advices, “gambling must be closely watched and regulated by government if it is allowed” (19).
Gambling has both positive and negative consequences. In many countries, gambling provide valuable income for charities through lotteries. Some of the money collected pays off lucky bets but the bulk goes to predetermined charities, which would have no income otherwise. In most cases, the motive for the participants in such lotteries is not financial reward on offer. They have a desire to participate in raising funds for the charities, with the probability of a financial reward. They typically take longer and hence they cannot satiate compulsive gamblers.
In some cases, gambling is a pastime that offers participants with a means to relax and while away time. As a social activity, gambling may serve as a means of bonding for friends and families seeking some common recreational activity away from their daily lives. Observers may place innocent bets on who is likely to win a game such as chess.
Another positive outcome of gambling is the provision of revenue for governments, which then use the proceeds to provide public services. A good example in the Unites States is the city of Las Vegas, which has a worldwide reputation as a gambling centre. In such places, the local authorities raise billions of dollars from gambling operations, helping them to finance their budgets.
On the other side, there are some negative consequences of gambling to both individuals and society, be it legal or illegal gambling. These dangers include problem gambling, which some experts classify as an addiction, financial irresponsibility leading to bankruptcy, and breakdown in social cohesion occasioned by family breakups and escalation of crime for the purpose of raising gambling capital or settling gambling debts, or retaliation against defaulters. Problem gambling refers to a point in a gambler’s life where they become obsessed with gambling and cannot bring themselves to stop.
They spend inordinate amounts of time and financial resources on gambling always hoping to recover their losses. This happens at the risk of their jobs and responsibilities, and even close relationships. As the problem proceeds, they end up bankrupt and heavily indebted since they can no longer afford to gamble from earned income, which by now they do not have, and they keep digging themselves deeper into the hole by taking more debt to gamble.
Gambling related crimes come from either the compulsive gambler, who having lost his source of income, finds it necessary to steal to raise more money for their indulgence. They also need all the money they can get to offset their debts.
They do not consider the consequences of their crimes, so long as it provides them with more opportunities to gamble. In the end, society looses because the person is no longer productive but requires the society’s help for rehabilitation. In addition, the gamblers families suffer, easily ending up divorced and estranged from their children.
In conclusion, while gambling may bring some positive effects to the society, there must be a high level of individual responsibility exercised if the society will survive its very powerful negative effects.
Grinols, Earl L. Gambling in America: Cost and Benefits. New York NY: Cambridge University Press, 2004.