If you are inclined to place a bet on a sporting event or sit down for a round of poker, you'll have little trouble finding a place to do it. Although illegal in Utah, it is hardly uncommon, as documented in reporting by Dennis Romboy in today's Deseret News.
There are few reliable statistics on how many Utahns regularly wager money in a game of chance. But national data suggests that 80 percent of Americans routinely engage in some form of gambling, legal or illegal. Every year, at least $500 billion is spent on various kinds of wagering.
A lot of people look upon the practice as an innocent, harmless pastime. They are wrong.
Relying on mere chance in order to take the wagers made by others treats fellow human beings as hapless means to base ends rather than as individuals deserving of respect.
And for those who are pathological gamblers, the effects are devastating. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that between 2 million and 3 million Americans are compulsive gamblers, who face a host of potential problems.
They are far more at risk than others to go bankrupt, lose a job, get divorced, suffer from depression, become addicted to drugs or alcohol and attempt suicide. These are not harmless side affects — they are in fact the kinds of problems that justify the enforcement of laws designed to deter people from finding an easy way to satisfy a gambling temptation.
The social costs are also not inconsequential. The nation spends billions a year in social services and rehabilitation programs for addicted gamblers. Billions more disappear as creditors' losses. The gambling industry — both legal and illicit — may give individuals employment in facilitating games of chance, but at the end of the day the industry produces no durable goods or products. It is simply a mechanism for a vast transfer of wealth among gamblers and to those who host their games.
Police agencies might not make it a priority to shut down weeknight poker games in residential basements. But society should take measures to ensure the practice is not widespread nor free from the risk of prosecution or punishment.
As a deterrent, police agencies should shut down organized gambling operations set up in rooms rented for that purpose.
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Of great importance are efforts to ensure that online gambling is not allowed to spread in any form or fashion. Allowing people with a proclivity toward compulsive gambling to access a game of chance through a computer connection is like giving a pyromaniac a gasoline can and a book of matches.
Anti-gambling laws are in place because society has recognized that the costs of such behavior far outweigh any recreational benefit. Because the activity is widespread doesn't make it acceptable. It certainly doesn't make it any less risky, or unethical.