The Role Of The State In Controlling Gambling
When considering gambling, one of the obvious questions that comes up is the extent to which the government should control what people can and can’t do. Is it right that limits and restrictions are put in place, or should people be given the right to bet as much or as little as they want?
Is it up to the government to decide that people should be allowed to bet at all, as is the case in certain nations around the world? An obvious part of the problem is that no restrictions whatsoever on the gambling industry would leave it open to the more nefarious elements of society to take advantage, including those that hope to commit fraud or use the industry for illegal crimes.
Yet the more restrictions governments put in place, the more free will is taken away from those who would like the ability to make decisions for themselves. Is the way the UK government handles things, wherein certain restrictions are put in place but people are ultimately allowed to decide for themselves whether they will gamble or not, the best middle ground? It’s a tricky issue that few people would say is black and white in terms of resolution, yet those that oppose gambling believe that governments should be doing far more to stop people from being able to bet a single penny. If the British government decided to outlaw gambling altogether, how would people react?
The Rules In The United Kingdom
In the UK the rules and regulations surrounding betting are predominantly defined by the 2005 Gambling Act, with the responsibility for upholding them falling to the Gambling Commission. At the time of writing, the majority of forms of gambling are legal in the United Kingdom for anyone over the age of 18, with some forms available to those over 16 year of age.
The UK is seen by many as being one of the most strictly regulated gambling markets in the world, but that regulation applies to the businesses looking to offer gambling services to punters rather than to the bettors themselves.
The government does offer certain restrictions, such as the high-profile decision to limit the maximum stake playable on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2 from the original £100, but in terms of stopping people from betting at all the British government steers clear.
In essence, all decisions taken by the Gambling Commission and the government in the UK are based on the idea of protecting the most vulnerable, whether that be in the form of problem gamblers or children.
The cuts to the FOBT maximum stake were based on the idea of the machines being ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’ and allowing those with gambling problems to get themselves into more and more debt. Likewise restrictions on advertising are aimed at stopping young people from being attracted to gambling.
How It Works In The United States
A far more interesting example comes from the United States of America, where each state is allowed to create its own legislation on gambling. Indeed, different levels are gambling are authorised from state to state, so it’s not even as if there’s a binary rule in terms of what is and isn’t allowed once a state decides that gambling is ok for its citizens.
The majority of states in the country run lotteries, for example, as the tax from them allow them to put money towards state issues such as education. Hawaii and Utah are the only states that completely rule out any form of gambling.
Which states allow what is something that is constantly shifting, with commercial casinos available in 23 states at the time of writing, providing gross gambling revenue back in 2006 of $34.11 billion.
The situation is complicated somewhat by the fact that Native American tribes are allowed to operate differently, with as much a 40% of the 562 tribes that are recognised federally operating a gambling establishment of some sort. That doesn’t mean that the topic is agreed upon by all indigenous Americans, however, with the topic often causing divides within tribes.
South Carolina is a good example for what we’re talking about, seeing as though in 2000 the state decided to completely outlaw the use of video poker machines. It meant that the possession, ownership or operation of such a device within the state was illegal, with prosecution and fines possible for those that circumvented the law on the issue. The law included people that had a video poker machine for their own personal use, so is it right that the state decided to legislate on what people could or could not do in the privacy of their own home?
Countries Where Gambling Is Banned
The reality is that gambling is an activity that opens itself up to problem behaviour, with many who engage in it believing that they’re essentially one step away from their own get-rich-quick scheme. Yet for government’s it’s a tricky balance between protecting their citizens and being in a situation where they can make money, thanks to the fact that gambling as an industry is a profitable one courtesy of taxes and so on.
Here’s a look at countries that have outlawed gambling in at least some significant way:
- United Arab Emirates
- Noerth Korea
Obviously not all forms of gambling are illegal in all of those countries, with Japan being an example of a nation where it’s surprising that they’re quite strict about how people can gamble. Whilst horse racing and certain other activities have been legal there for years because of traditions, other forms of gambling were outlawed until recently.
The biggest shift has come in the form of allowing casino gambling, with many believing that Japan could rival Macau in terms of the size of the market.
Similarly it’s untrue to say that gambling is completely prohibited in Singapore, but it is strictly regulated. The regulation is enforced by making gambling an extremely expensive hobby to have, with high fees needing to paid in order to enter the casinos in the first place and then high minimum table limits to means that only those that can truly afford it are able to gamble in the first place.
They have, though, completely outlawed all forms of online gambling unless an exemption is granted, such as the exemption given to the Singapore Turf Clubs and Singapore Pools in 2016.
Is Restricting Gambling Right?
It is understandable that governments might want to take measures to stop its citizens from getting themselves into financial or trouble personal distress via gambling, but whether or not they should outlaw the activity altogether is a matter that inspires fierce debate.
If you are someone that knows where your limits are, is it right that you are stopped from potentially being able to win some money or lose money you can afford to lose because someone else doesn’t know how to control themselves?
Isn’t it a little bit like alcohol consumption? There will always be people that don’t know their limits and drink far too much, but should their behaviour lead to a complete ban on alcohol to mean that people who just enjoy a glass of win with their dinner aren’t allowed to do so? That’s a little bit like what happened in South Carolina with the video poker ban, stopping people that just enjoy playing the game recreationally from doing so because the likes of Cheryl Hall were addicted and couldn’t stop playing.
The majority of people who gamble will have heard the phrase ‘the house always wins’, so they know that there is a very good chance that they’re going to lose their money. Indeed, casinos and bookmakers aren’t shy in terms of their edge, usually advertising very clearly how much money they stand to win on any given game or bet.
With that in mind, isn’t it the fault of those gambling for not realising that the more they bet the more money they’re likely to lose? Should the gambling companies really be expected to stop people from betting just in case they are liable to get addicted?
It’s also worth noting that only a small percentage of those that gamble have an addiction. That doesn’t make it ok for those people, of course, but it also means that outlawing the entire practice of gambling because of those people stops the majority who don’t have a problem with their gambling attitudes from enjoying it as a pastime.
Most people engage in gambling as a form of entertainment rather than a way to make themselves a living, so it would be fair to assume that they enter into the world of gambling with the eyes open about the possible consequences.
It is perfectly right however to ensure those under 18, who may not be able to appropriately assess the risks and consequences, should be restricted from gambling. It is also correct that the industry should not be used for crime. Therefore, even people who side on the ‘free will’ side of the debate recognise the need for states to at least regulate gambling.
What Do Opponents To Gambling Think?
Obviously those that oppose gambling completely disagree with the notion that people enter into it with eyes open. There are numerous arguments against gambling being a free and open thing for people to get involved in, with one of the most obvious being that problem gambling costs a huge amount of money to society on an annual basis.
Whilst the government clearly makes plenty of money in taxes and so on, it also has to spend millions in helping problem gamblers get back on their feet.
With gambling having been shown to be something that affects the poorest in society the most as they look for it to be a way of getting out of their financial mess, it’s understandable why critics of the betting industry might feel that there’s scope to do more to help the most vulnerable in society.
It’s clear that gambling companies themselves are only going to do the bear minimum required on that front, so the responsibly therefore falls to the state. Until and unless gambling companies begin to add their own restrictions on the industry that they exist in, there’s little hope but for governments to rule the roost over them.
What Would Happen If Gambling Was Unrestricted
Perhaps the biggest argument for restrictions being in place on gambling comes in the form of the illegal enterprises that would muscle in on gambling operations if it was allowed to exist in an unrestricted format. For a good example of what we’re talking about on that front it’s worth looking back at Japan and the manner in which the Yakuza infiltrated the gambling societies of the country to such an extent that they soon began to merge into stock market manipulation and other forms of influence.
Whilst that is obviously an extreme example, it’s still true that the world of gambling has been open to exploitation from more nefarious members of society since it first became something that people could do with their money. Whether it be criminal enterprises that have set themselves up as new gambling companies thanks to the explosion in the likes of white label companies or else violent types looking to rob those that have won money legally, there are numerous ways that illegal means can be introduced to the world of gambling as it currently is.
If you were to unrestricted gambling as an activity even further then you’d likely find yourself in a situation whereby the influence of illegal enterprises increased even further. The restrictions put in place by the British government are, after all, only minor as things currently stand. Laws that have been discussed, such as banning the ability to bet using credit cards, might seem like an increase in the nanny state but are designed simply to stop people from getting themselves into more and more debt rather than completely introduce a nanny-state.
As things currently stand in the UK there is a healthy amount of interference from the state, keeping gambling companies honest and stopping them from ignoring their responsibilities to their customers. The restrictions in place are about the best balance that the government could come up with to ensure that customers are safe whilst also stopping the various firms involved from abdicating their social responsibility.