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Gambling ills must be brought into focus

A 2010 study in the UNLV Gaming Research and Review Journal revealed that those classified as problem gamblers were on average 84 per cent more likely to use hard drugs, 31 per cent more likely to binge drink and 260 per cent more likely to hire a prostitute.

Bharat Dogra | New Delhi |

Some time ago when adverse public opinion started building about undesirable social impacts of casinos in Goa, the government announced that it would stop all ‘original Goans’ from entering casinos. This was taken as an implicit recognition by the government that adverse social impacts had started manifesting despite the limited reach of mostly boat-based casinos.

At the same time local people in the know took the government assurance about not allowing original Goans into casinos, whatever that means, with several pinches of salt as even powerful politicians were themselves found to visit casinos. It was pointed out that there was hardly any evidence of the ban being in place. What politicians say at election rallies and public meetings against casinos is seldom taken seriously, people pointed out.

In the subsequent debate it also emerged that actually there were plans to take casinos big-time to some prime land locations and that a new airport was being planned as part of this initiative. A big player in casinos was quoted as saying: “The Indian government has asked casinos to build integrated resorts in Goa. Gambling operators who did not enter Macau, when the game was liberalized at the beginning of the millennium do not want to miss the boat in Goa and want to bet on what might be the next Macau. We expect Goa to quickly become a $ 1 billion market as it transitions to land-based casinos.”

Whatever may be the truth about these plans it is clear that even with their present-day limited range, casinos have become identified in the public mind with several social problems. Women may not take any part in gambling but still suffer its adverse social impacts. While gambling has been a serious addiction for a long time in history, in modern times this problem has taken novel forms with technology making it possible to spread gambling on a much wider scale.

In addition, powerful interests have been pleading for legalising casino gambling and other forms of gambling including betting on sports events. Gambling is not only being legalised in many parts of the world; in addition many local governments are even promoting gambling to earn revenue. According to one estimate the size of global legal gambling may amount to $335 billion. In such a situation there is need for wider recognition of the adverse social impacts of gambling.

Crystal Fulton, Professor of University College, Dublin has written, “Harmful gambling can have crippling financial and social effects on the gambler, their friends and family. In the first national study on the social impact of harmful gambling in Ireland, we examined how it affected recovering gamblers, their families and friends…Talking to people from all walks of life…we found that a common theme was the devastating social effects gambling had on people’s lives.”

A review of existing research on this subject by Shou-Tsung Wu and Yeong-Shyang Chen says, “Although some researchers have found that the development of casino gambling has no direct association with an increase in criminal activities, most studies have shown that casino gambling may be correlated with the following social deviations : domestic violence, divorce, bankruptcy, drug and alcohol abuse, risky or illicit sexual behaviour (especially prostitution) and problem gambling. “Additionally, Stokowski (1996) and Long (1996), who studied gambling towns in Colorado and South Dakota, clearly indicated that the rates of criminal activities increased due to the development of casino enterprises in these two locations. The increase in the number of pathological gamblers is another concerning issue regarding the development of casino gambling.”

According to Gordon Moody Association (Help for Problem Gamblers), “Anyone who gets caught up in the downward spiral of problem gambling finds only too soon that the negative impact on his or her life can be devastating. Finding money to gamble is usually the most immediate and obvious issue which brings with it enough problems, but in addition an all-consuming compulsion to gamble at any cost leads to difficulties which affect employment, quality of life, family relationships and mental and physical health. “And, of course, problem gambling doesn’t just affect the individual. It’s estimated that for every problem gambler at least 10 other family members, friends and colleagues are also directly affected.”

A 2010 study in the UNLV Gaming Research and Review Journal revealed that those classified as problem gamblers were on average 84 per cent more likely to use hard drugs, 31 per cent more likely to binge drink and 260 per cent more likely to hire a prostitute.

Hence it is clear that gambling has very serious social impacts and the rapid spread of legal gambling should be resisted by social movements. In addition, communities should also resist the widespread practice of various forms of illegal gambling. In schools and in community places there should be a clear message against gambling, backed with adequate information on the adverse social impacts of gambling.

The highly dubious arguments given for legalising gambling, including betting in sports events and casino gambling, should be resisted strongly by providing all the strong evidence against the adverse social impacts of all forms of gambling.

(The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements.)