Look Who's Addicted to Gambling

States seek to get into people's addictive craws

Posted Feb 28, 2013

As the American Psychiatric Association's manual, DSM-5, for the first time recognizes a non-substance-based addiction — gambling — states have become completely dependent on the money generated by gamblers.  So much so, that when gambling revenues decline, states desperately seek out new ways to hook people.

New Jersey is such a state.  As its gambling casino revenues falter — and new casinos fail — the state has (in the words of the New York Times) doubled down on its gambling concessions. 

Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill on Tuesday authorizing Internet gambling, which would allow people to play casino games from their mobile phones or laptops. He is also in court fighting a federal ban on sports betting, having signed a law last year that would legalize it.

At the same time, hotels in Atlantic City are experimenting with in-room gambling, as accessible and private as a minibar or on-demand movies. And lawmakers on the opposite side of the state envision pop-up casinos — one legislator likened them to county fairs — at concerts or sporting events.

Thus — while psychiatry recognizes gambling as powerfully addictogenic — states are refining the ways in which they enable people to access gambling.  Providing quicker, more ready access to gambling options will have what kind of impact on gambling addiction, do you suppose? 

Donald Weinbaum, the director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said: “Increased access to gambling increases the incidence of gambling addictions, and the Internet could not be more accessible. It’s going to accelerate the progression of problems for people who are already at risk.”

Why is New Jersey doing this?  As more and more states jump into the gambling business, they all chase gamblers and their money.  And they are particularly interested in new gamblers — the ones who have come of age playing addictive video games.

Much as Atlantic City set the model for the explosion of casinos across the country over the last 20 years, New Jersey’s move signals the future of gambling, as states try to tap into the money already flowing to the black market or offshore betting companies, and entice a new generation of gamblers who might graduate from FarmVille to online blackjack, and ideally to an actual casino.

The states have themselves become addicted to the funds that gambling injects into state budgets.  Governor Chris Christie has spurred the New Jersey on-line gambling legislation:

Mr. Christie, a Republican, called the Internet gambling bill a “historic opportunity to continue the state’s leadership as a premier destination for tourism and entertainment.”

He also pointed to the damage Hurricane Sandy brought to the state, saying, “In the wake of devastating losses suffered by our residents in recent months, we must embrace new ideas to fuel our reconstruction and continued prosperity.”

And what about the attention seemingly brought to gambling by its classification in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?

Arguments about the dangers of people’s gambling their savings away have been all but absent. Lawmakers here were mostly concerned about who would get what piece of the pie — the casinos, the racetracks or the state. The one senator to vote against Internet gambling, Michael Doherty, objected only because he argued the smarter move was to build casinos close to big population centers.

Can you imagine a cartoon of a vulture — labeled "New Jersey" — picking at the liver of a young gambler transfixed in front of a computer, or an older woman pumping money into a slot machine, or a middle-aged man at a blackjack table?  Are states ready to devour their own in pursuit of ever-scarcer money on which to float their operations to provide services that we all require and demand?

The New York Times Magazine recently featured a story accusing the food industry of tailoring junk foods to appeal to our addictive tendencies, to create new young junk food junkies.

So what are New Jersey and Governor Chris Christie doing, soon to be followed by the other states?

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