Media Calls Lotto Predatory Gambling • This Week in Gambling

As our industry grows, it becomes an easier target. Now, at least one member of the main-stream media has labeled the lottery as predatory gambling. And, in what could not be considered actual gambling news, another member was willing to go as far as to call sports betting operators idiots. But do these claims have any merit? Or is it just the usual industry opponents with their usual negative rhetoric?

To be sure, some people just don’t like gambling. And within that group of haters there are several types. There are the ones who don’t enjoy the activity themselves, but basically leave us to our vices. There are the ones who have legitimate reasons for their dislike, with addiction and predatory gambling affecting them or a family member on a personal level. Their anger is understandable, even if we disagree. But then, there’s this third type.

The ‘morality police’, as I have called them over the years, feel as if their standards should be the ones to which we all strive. That their ideas of right and wrong are the ethical high mark to which we should all strive. I’ve known a few of these buffoons in my life, and they are usually hiding some pretty dark stuff in their own lives. They go on these moral crusades in an effort to ‘pay penance’ for their own perceived shortcomings, or perhaps to mask their own dirty little secrets.

Recently, NPR published a piece where they stated the lottery was predatory gambling. They claim that lotteries are more prevalent in low-income areas, and that their marketing and advertising have no regulation when it comes to “their predatory practices”. And while we’re willing to concede that their facts may be correct in some instances, when it comes to the extrapolation of what those facts mean it’s just like statistics: You can make the numbers say whatever you want them to say.

Perhaps there are more lottery sales in low-income areas because rich folks have no interest in playing the lottery? Perhaps those with money find the concept of spending cash on something with so little chance of success just silly? If I had $10 million in the bank, there are other investments that I would take advantage of, rather than the extreme low chances of winning another $10 million on the Power Ball. But those opportunities afforded to the wealthy are simply not available to most of us.

Of course, it doesn’t help when those in the business of gambling do stupid shit. Recently Dave Ramsey, a finance advisor, radio host, and author, blasted sports betting operators like Caesars for partnering with colleges to promote events. For this, Mr. Ramsey called them “freakin’ idiots”, but does he have an argument? First, if the legal age for gambling in a state is 18, then there is no argument about whether of not a college age person can gamble. They can. But should they? And should universities be participating? This is where the arguments breakdown, because the line we shouldn’t cross is based on our own beliefs and experiences.

This is why there’s just no simple solution when it comes to problem gambling. The legal answers to these questions are black and white. But when a something bad happens… when an 18 year old kid gets into trouble… or when a parent uses grocery money on lottery tickets… then people get hurt. So is it fair to punish 99% of the population for the sake of the 1% who can’t control themselves? Probably not. But is it fair to ignore that 1% and just leave them to their own destruction? That would be horrific. And here we go ’round in circles.

So what if someone wants to spend $2 a week for a lotto ticket? So what if a college kid puts $10 on the big football game? If it’s within their budget and they play responsibly, what’s wrong with a little fun? What’s wrong with bringing a little excitement to the game? Or the hope (be it ever so slim) of a life changing jackpot? After all, people do win bets… even the lottery. And that’s really at the core of my defense for gambling: Choice. And we should all have the freedom to make that choice, even if we know it’s a long shot. Even if we know it’s a bad choice.

In fact, we should all have the right to make our own decisions, unless and until those decisions violate the rights of others or place them in danger. We’re free to drink alcohol, so long as we don’t drive a vehicle. We have the right to smoke cigarettes, so long as others are not forced to inhale our smoke. We’re free to eat fast food for three meals a day, even though we know it will kill us. So where are the ‘morality police’ on these issues?

Drinking raised blood pressure. That alone can kill you. Then there’s heart disease, stroke, liver issues, and digestive problems. Smoking does those things, too… plus causes cancer, emphysema, bronchitis and more. Fast food causes obesity, digestive issues, diabetes, heart disease, and can even lead to depression. And yet, people still drink and smoke and eat those cheeseburgers every day. These are all very real concerns with consequences on families and society. So where are all the folks crusading against these things on an ethical basis?

Let’s be honest: Gambling is held to a different standard. Always has been. And yet, if we want to be the bigger people in this argument… if we want to be intellectual, transparent, and not the ones blindly pushing our agenda… then we must admit that some operators engage in predatory gambling. And that there are very, very few people in this world with legitimate, authentic gambling problems… but they do exist, and their pain is real. Some studies say the rate of addiction may be less than 1%. And yet, if my child or spouse or parent was one of those people, it would be very upsetting to watch their life implode.

So, while I fully support the right of those of legal age to gamble, I have to admit that some operators frequently push the boundaries of the rules. They flirt with the limits of the laws, all in an effort to capture as much market share as possible. And even when they are caught doing so and fined by regulators, it won’t do any good if they made more money from their actions than they lost from the fine. But this argument goes beyond the laws. And thus, beyond the scope of a simple black and white issue.

There will always be those who hate gambling for their own personal reasons. There will always be operators who practice predatory gambling. And sadly, there will be those poor souls with real problems caught in the middle. How do we allow the majority of people who gamble responsibly to do so, while also identifying and helping those who cannot? It sounds simple… we want it to be simple…  but apparently, it isn’t.