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Gambling Fever

Wagers on the Rise, Along With Ethical Concerns

NEW YORK, JULY 8, 2006 (Zenit) - Global revenue from gambling is expected to reach $125 billion by 2010. The estimate comes from a report by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, Reuters reported June 21. Last year, revenues were $82.2 billion, and are expected to increase by 8.8% annually.

The United States, the world's largest gambling market, could see revenue grow from $53.4 billion in 2005 to $74.5 billion in 2010. Another booming sector is revenue from gambling sites on the Internet. Revenue is expected to double, from $5.1 billion to $11.4 billion by 2010.

Most forms of online gambling are illegal in the United States. But according to a March 19 article in the Washington Times nearly two-thirds of all online wagers are placed by Americans. Gambling sites get around the legal restrictions by operating outside the United States.

Gambling companies are now pressuring for changes in U.S. law, to allow them to operate legally in the country. As an incentive to lawmakers, they dangle the prospect of increased revenue, stemming from legalization.

"I could pump $1 billion into the U.S. economy right away," Peter Carruthers, chief executive officer of BetonSports.com, told the Washington Times. His company operates out of Costa Rica and earns most of its revenue from U.S. bettors.

This is a temptation that is proving difficult for legislators to resist, the Wall Street Journal noted March 30. It gave the example of slot machines. State-sponsored slot machines are in use in nine states, according to the Journal, and other states are debating their introduction. A 10th state, Pennsylvania, will soon be on the list. The types used are often referred to as "video lottery terminals," similar to the electronic slot machines with push buttons now common in casinos.

Not counting Pennsylvania, there are now about 86,000 slot machines authorized by the states. By the end of 2007 another 49,000 will be added. These are in addition to the 675,000 or so slot machines in private venues, including casinos and cruise ships.

All of this adds up to a big payout for government revenues, the Journal pointed out. Rhode Island's lottery, for example, is expected to contribute $325.1 million to state revenues during the current fiscal year, no less than 10.6% of the projected total. In New York state, in the fiscal year ended June 30, the lottery brought in $2.06 billion.

Family dangers

The dangers of expanding gambling opportunities, however, were highlighted by a marriage counseling service in Ireland. John Farrelly, director of counseling at Accord, a Catholic marriage-support service, said that more and more families are coming under pressure due to gambling addiction. His comments were reported June 8 by CatholicIreland.net.

Farrelly said that when Accord brings its counselors together for training, the problem of gambling sites comes up again and again. "The family is under pressure because the industry has no interest in them except to exploit them," he said.

Internet gambling, meanwhile, is growing rapidly in England. The London-based Financial Times on June 18 cited data showing a 50% growth in users in the past year, with 10 million people visiting a gambling Web site in the first three months of 2006.

And the gambling opportunities are set to increase. Britain's government has authorized 17 new casinos, and a competition among cities for the new sites is under way.

Betting in the United Kingdom have risen sevenfold since 2001, with around $92 billion wagered last year, reported the Independent newspaper May 25. The most successful form of gambling is the National Lottery, said to be played by 70% of the country's population. Currently only 3% of the population regularly visit casinos, but operators expect this to increase notably once the new sites open.

According to the Independent there are 370,000 problem gamblers in the United Kingdom. This is expected to increase to 700,000 within five years.

Social poison

Doctors who gathered at the recent annual conference of the British Medical Association termed gambling a "social poison," the Scotsman newspaper reported June 28. "Gambling addiction is as corrosive as drug addiction and alcoholism in terms of family breakup and financial ruin," said Dr. David Sinclair, a general practitioner.

Canada's Vanier Institute of the Family was also critical of gambling. It released a study June 11 entitled "Gambling with our (Kids') Futures: Gambling as a Family Policy Issue."

The author, Arlene Moscovitch, noted that the country abounds in places where you can lose your money: 87,000 gambling machines; 33,000 lottery ticket centers; 60 permanent casinos; and 250 racetracks and teletheaters. There are also 25,000 licenses for bingo, temporary raffles, and pull tabs, such as lottery-type tickets.

In 2003-04, government-run gambling rang up a gross profit of $13 billion Canadian ($11.6 billion U.S.), an increase of $700 million Canadian ($629 million U.S.) from the reported profits of the year before. Of that, $6.4 billion Canadian was net profit for the provinces.

People are continually presented with visions of the "good life" to be gained through getting lucky and raking in a big win. That message arrives via numerous gambling advertisements in print, on radio, television, the Internet and billboards, Moscovitch noted.

The Vanier Institute paper cited research on Canadian gamblers showing the following:

-- The per-adult gambling loss in Canada for 2003-04 was $596 Canadian -- nearly $50 Canadian per person per month.

-- Household spending is estimated at $1,080 Canadian, higher than the amounts spent on education ($1,007 Canadian) and personal care ($834 Canadian).

-- Lower-income households spend proportionally more of their financial resources on gambling, making it a so-called voluntary regressive tax.

-- About 40% of government revenue from gambling comes from the 2-4% of the adult population who struggle with a gambling addiction.

Moscovitch presented a variety of research demonstrating the negative effects of excessive gambling on family life and personal relationships. Problems range from bankruptcy, to family breakup, fraud, theft, homelessness and even suicide.

In terms of treating these ill effects, the paper notes that recent research emphasizes the need to move from a disease model that mainly focuses on gambling as an individual pathology, to a public health model that first considers the impact of gambling on the community.

Thus the issue could be dealt with by means of public health campaigns similar to those regarding alcohol and tobacco. Education, and changing attitudes, is important, particularly among youth, Moscovitch said.

Catholic worries

The Catholic Church is also anxious about gambling. Bishop Frederick Henry sent a letter on the issue to all 97 schools in the Calgary Catholic School District. In his letter, dated June 20, the bishop of Calgary noted that last Dec. 9 he asked Calgary Catholic School Trustees to put an end to the use of casino and bingo fund-raising ventures.

The trustees, he noted, have decided not to put an end to gambling, preferring to leave such a decision up to each school. Bishop Henry termed this decision "seriously flawed and based on a series of half-truths."

The prelate commented that while the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that gambling is not intrinsically wrong (provided certain conditions are fulfilled), there are specific problems with the Canadian situation that led him to wanting the practice to be banned from Catholic schools.

Not only is "the whole industry is based on greed," he noted, but it also leaves many people damaged in its wake. "It is morally wrong for a Catholic institution to formally cooperate in an industry that exploits the weak and vulnerable," Bishop Henry concluded. A point of view that increasing numbers are coming to share.

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Keywords

Gambling, Ethics, Money, Wages

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