Gambling in the United States: An Overview

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Chapter 1
Gambling in the United States: An Overview


Gambling is an activity in which something of value is risked on the chance that something of greater value might be obtained, based on the uncertain outcome of a particular event. Organized gambling has become an industry because so many people are willing and even eager to risk their money in exchange for a chance at something bigger and better. The elements of risk and uncertainty actually add to gambling's appealand to its danger. Throughout history, various cultures have considered gambling alternately harmless and sinful, respectable and corrupt, legal and illegal. Societal attitudes are dependent on customs, traditions, religion, morals, and the context in which gambling occurs.

Lawmakers have struggled to define gambling and determine which activities should be legal and which should not. For example, betting activities with an element of skill involved (such as picking a horse in a race or playing a card game) might be more acceptable than those based entirely on chance (such as spinning a roulette wheel or playing slot machines). Acceptability also depends on who profits from the gambling. Bingo games held for charity and lotteries that fund state programs are more commonly legal than casinos run for corporate profit.

Dan Seligman estimates in In Defense of Gambling (Forbes, June 23, 2003) that Americans legally gamble $900 billion per year. However, why do people gamble at all? Common sense suggests that risking something of value on an event with an uncertain outcome is irrational. Scientists postulate a variety of reasons for gambling, including the lure of money, the excitement and fun of the activity, and the influence from peers. At its deepest level, gambling may represent a human desire to control the randomness that seems to permeate life. Whatever the drive may be, it must be strong. An entire gambling culture has developed in the United States in which entrepreneurs (legal and otherwise) offer people opportunities to gamble, and business is booming.


Ancient Times

Archaeologists have discovered evidence that people in Egypt, China, Japan, and Greece played games of chance with dice and other devices as far back as 2000 BC. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, loaded dicewhich are weighted to make a particular number come up more often than othershave been found in ancient tombs in Egypt, the Far East, and even North and South America.

Dice are probably the oldest gambling implements known. They were often carved from sheep bones and known as knucklebones. They are mentioned in several historical documents, including the Mahabharata, the epic poem and philosophy text written in India approximately twenty-five hundred years ago. A story in the New Testament of the Bible describes Roman soldiers throwing dice to determine who would get the robe of Jesus (4? BCAD 29?). Roman bone dice have been found dating from the first to the third centuries AD. The Romans also gambled on chariot races, animal fights, and gladiator contests.

The Medieval Period

During medieval times (approximately 500 to 1500) gambling was legalized by some governments, particularly in areas of modern-day Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. England and France were much less permissive, at times outlawing all forms of gambling. King Louis IX (12151270) of France prohibited gambling during his reign for religious reasons. Still, illegal gambling continued to thrive.

During this period Christian powers in Europe launched the Crusades (military expeditions against Muslim powers

that controlled lands considered holy by Christians). They also permitted gambling, but only by knights and people of higher rank. Violators were subject to severe whippings. Even among the titled gamblers, there was a legal limit on how much money could be lost, a concept that later would come to be known as limited-stakes gambling.

English knights returned from the Crusades with longlegged Arabian stallions, which they bred with sturdy English mares to produce Thoroughbred racehorses. Betting on private horse races became a popular pastime among the nobility. Card games also became popular in Europe around the end of the fourteenth century. According to the International Playing-Card Society, in History of Playing-Cards (June 2000,, one of the earliest known references to playing cards in Europe dates from 1377. During the late 1400s and early 1500s lotteries began to be used in Europe to raise money for public projects. In Lottery History (2008, ID=12&PageCategory=11), the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries states that Queen Elizabeth I (15331603) established the first English state lottery in 1567.

Precolonial America and the Colonial Era

Native Americans played games of chance as part of tribal ceremonies and celebrations hundreds of years before North America was colonized. One of the most common was a dice and bowl game in which five plum stones or bones carved with different markings were tossed into a bowl or basket. Wagers were placed before the game began, and scoring was based on the combination of markings that appeared after a throw. The Cheyenne called the game monshimout. A similar game was called hubbub by the Arapaho and by New England tribes.

European colonists brought gambling traditions with them to the New World. Historical accounts report that people in parts of New England gambled on horse racing, cockfighting, and bull baiting. Bull baiting was a blood sport in which a bull was tethered in a ring or pit into which dogs were thrown. The dogs were trained to torment the bull, which responded by goring the dogs. Spectators gambled on how many of the dogs the bull would kill.

In 1612 King James I (15661625) of England created a lottery to provide funds for Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent British settlement in North America. Lotteries were later held throughout the colonies to finance the building of towns, roads, hospitals, and schools and to provide other public services.

Many colonists, though, disapproved of gambling. The Pilgrims and Puritans fled to North America during the 1620s and 1630s to escape persecution in Europe for their religious beliefs. They believed in a strong work ethic that considered labor morally redeeming and viewed gambling as sinful because it wasted time that might have been spent in productive endeavors.

Cockfighting, bear and bull baiting, wrestling matches, and footraces were popular gambling sports throughout Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The predecessors of many modern casino games were also developed and popularized during this period. For example, the roulette wheel is often attributed to French mathematician Blaise Pascal (16231662).

Gambling among British aristocrats became so customary during the early years of the eighteenth century that it presented a financial problem for the country. Gentlemen gambled away their belongings, their country estates, and even their titles. Cuthbert William Johnson noted in The Law of Bills of Exchange, Promissory Notes, Checks, &c (1839) that large transfers of land and titles were disruptive to the nation's economy and stability, so the reigning monarch, Queen Anne (16651714), responded in 1710 with the Statute of Anne, which made large gambling debts utterly void, frustrate, and of none effect, to all intents and purposes whatsoever. In other words, large gambling debts could not be legally enforced. This prohibition has prevailed in common law for centuries and is still cited in U.S. court cases. Queen Anne is also known for her love of horse racing, which became a popular betting sport (along with boxing) during her reign.

A surge of evangelical Christianity swept through England, Scotland, Germany, and the North American colonies during the mid- to late 1700s. Many historians refer to this as the Great Awakening, a time when conservative moral values became more prevalent and widespread. Evangelical Christians considered gambling to be a sin and dangerous to society, and religion became a powerful tool for bringing about social change.

In October 1774 the Continental Congress of the North American colonies issued the Articles of Association (September 28, 2008,, which stated in part that the colonists will discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse racing, and all kinds of games, cock fighting, exhibitions of shews [sic ], plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments. The purpose of the directive was to encourage frugality, economy, and industry.

The Nineteenth Century

In general, gambling was tolerated as long as it did not upset the social order. According to James R. West-phal et al., in Gambling in the South: Implications for Physicians (Southern Medical Journal, vol. 93, no. 9. 2000), Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina passed versions of the Statute of Anne during the colonial period to

prevent gambling from getting out of hand. New Orleans became a gambling mecca during the 1700s and 1800s, even though gambling was outlawed during much of that time. In the 1830s almost all southern states outlawed gambling in public places; however, some exceptions were made for respectable gentlemen.

In 1823, eleven years after becoming a state, Louisiana legalized several forms of gambling and licensed several gambling halls in New Orleans. Even though the licensing act was repealed in 1835, casino-type gambling continued to prosper and spread to riverboats traveling the Mississippi River. Professional riverboat gamblers soon developed an unsavory reputation as cheats and scoundrels. Several historians trace the popularization of poker and craps in the United States to Louisiana gamblers of that period. Riverboat gambling continued to thrive until the outbreak of the Civil War (18611865).

Andrew Jackson (17671845) was president of the United States from 1829 to 1837. The Jacksonian era was associated with a new attention to social problems and a focus on morality. A new wave of evangelical Christianity swept the country. According to I. Nelson Rose of Whittier Law School, in The Rise and Fall of the Third Wave: Gambling Will be Outlawed in Forty Years (William R. Eadington and Judy A. Cornelius, eds., Gambling and Public Policy: International Perspectives, 1991), gambling scandals and the spread of a conservative view of morality led to an end to most legal gambling in the United States by the mid-1800s.

Across the country, private and public lotteries were plagued by fraud and scandal and fell into disfavor. Objectionable to many southern legislators on moral grounds, lotteries had been banned in most southern states by the 1840s. By 1862 only two states, Missouri and Kentucky, had legal lotteries. However, lotteries were reinstated after the Civil War to raise badly needed funds. In 1868 Louisiana implemented a lottery known as the Great Serpent. Even though it was extremely popular, the lottery was plagued with fraud and was eventually outlawed by the state in 1895. Casino gambling, which had been legalized again in Louisiana in 1869, was outlawed at the same time as the lottery.

Frontier gambling in the Old West, both legal and illegal, peaked during the mid- to late nineteenth century. Saloons and other gambling houses were common in towns catering to cowboys, traders, and miners. Infamous gamblers of the time included Doc Holliday (1851 1887), Bat Masterson (18531921), Poker Alice (1851 1930), and Wild Bill Hickok (18371876). Hickok was shot while playing poker in 1876. At the time, he held a hand of two black aces and two black eights, which came to be known as the dead man's hand.

Gambling in general fell into disfavor as the nineteenth century ended. In England, Queen Victoria (18191901) ruled from 1837 to 1901; her rule was characterized by concern for morality and by the spread of conservative values. These attitudes permeated American society as well. Gambling fell out of favor as a pastime for respectable people. Many eastern racetracks and western casinos were pressured to close for moral and ethical reasons. As new states entered the Union, many included provisions against gambling in their constitutions. By federal law, all state lotteries were shut down by 1900.


As the twentieth century began, there were forty-five states in the Union. The territories of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona gained statehood between 1907 and 1912. According to Rose, the closure of casinos in New Mexico and Arizona was a precondition for statehood. In 1910 Nevada outlawed casino gambling. That same year, horse racing was outlawed in New York, and almost all gambling was prohibited in the United States. The only legal gambling options at the time were horse races in Maryland and Kentucky and a few isolated card clubs.

Legalized Casinos in Nevada

The 1930s were a time of reawakening for legal gambling interests. Many states legalized horse racing and charitable gambling. Nevada went even further. In 1931 its legislature made casino gambling legal again. It seemed like a logical step: frontier gambling was widely tolerated in the state, even though gambling was officially illegal. More important, Nevada, like the rest of the country, was suffering from a deep recession, and it sought to cash in on two events. The state's divorce laws were changed in the early 1930s to allow the granting of a divorce after only six weeks of residency, so people from other states temporarily moved into small motels and inns to satisfy the residency requirement. At the same time, construction began on the massive Hoover Dam, only thirty miles from Las Vegas. Thousands of construction workerslike the people waiting for their divorces to become finalwere all potential gamblers.

Small legal gambling halls opened in Reno (in the northern part of the state), but they catered mostly to cowboys and local residents and had a reputation for being raunchy and wild. In April 1931, however, the first gambling licenses were issued in Las Vegas. The first big casino, El Rancho Vegas, was opened in 1941 on what would later be known as the Strip.

Many in the business world doubted that casino gambling in Nevada would be successful. Most of the casino hotels were small establishments operated by local families or small private companies (some were dude rancheswestern-style resorts that offered horseback riding). They were located in hot and dusty desert towns

far from major cities, had no air conditioning, and offered few amenities to travelers. There was little or no state and local oversight of gambling activities.

However, the end of Prohibitionwhich had made it illegal to import or sell alcoholic beverages in the United Statesbrought another element to Las Vegas. During the Prohibition Era (19201933) organized crime syndicates operated massive bootlegging rings and became very powerful and wealthy. When Prohibition ended, they switched their focus to gambling. Organized criminals in New York and Chicago were among the first to see the potential of Nevada. Meyer Lansky (19021983) and Frank Costello (18911973) sent fellow gangster Benjamin Bugsy Siegel (19061947) west to develop new criminal enterprises. Siegel invested millions of dollars of the mob's money in a big and lavish casino in Las Vegas that he was convinced would attract top-name entertainers and big-spending gamblers. The Flamingo, a hotel and casino, opened in 1946. It was a failure at first, and Siegel was soon killed by his fellow mobsters.

POSTWORLD WAR II. Nevada's casinos grew slowly until after World War II (19391945). Postwar Americans were full of optimism and had spending money. Tourism began to grow in Nevada. Las Vegas casino resorts attracted Hollywood celebrities and famous entertainers. The state began collecting gaming taxes during the 1940s. The growing casinos in Las Vegas provided good-paying jobs to workers who brought their families with them, building a middle-class presence. In 1955 the state legislature created the Nevada Gaming Control Board within the Nevada Tax Commission. Four years later, the Nevada Gaming Commission was established.

CORPORATE GROWTH: THE 1960S. During the 1960s the Las Vegas casinos continued to grow. By that time, organized crime syndicates used respectable front men in top management positions while they manipulated the businesses from behind the scenes. Publicly held corporations had been largely kept out of the casino business by a provision in Nevada law that required every individual stockholder to be licensed to operate a casino.

One corporation that was able to get into the casino business was the Summa Corporation, a spin-off of the Hughes Tool Company, with only one stockholder: Howard Hughes (19051976). Hughes was a wealthy and eccentric businessman who owned the very profitable Hughes Aircraft Company. He spent a lot of his time in Las Vegas during the 1940s and 1950s and later moved there. In 1966 he bought the Desert Inn, a casino hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas. Later, he bought the nearby Sands, Frontier, Castaways, and Silver Slipper casinos.

Legend has it that mobsters threatened Hughes to drive him out of the casino business in Las Vegas, but he refused to leave. He invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Las Vegas properties and predicted that the city would be an entertainment center by the end of the century. In 1967 the Nevada legislature changed the law to make it easier for corporations to own casinos.

To combat organized crime, federal statutes against racketeering (the act extorting money or favors from businesses through the use of intimidating tactics or by other illegal means) were enacted in 1971, and Nevada officials overhauled the casino regulatory system, making it more difficult for organized crime figures to be involved. Corporations and legitimate financiers began to invest heavily in casino hotels in Las Vegas and other parts of the state.

The Development of Gambling beyond Nevada

During the early 1970s the U.S. Commission on the Review of the National Policy toward Gambling studied Americans' attitudes about gambling and their gambling behavior. The commission found that 80% of Americans approved of gambling and 67% engaged in gambling activities. In its final report, Gambling in America (1976), the commission made recommendations to state governments that were considering the legalization of gambling and concluded that states should set gambling policy without interference from the federal government, unless problems developed from the infiltration of organized crime or from conflicts between states.

In 1978 the first legal casino outside of Nevada opened in Atlantic City, New Jersey. By the mid-1990s nine additional states had legalized casino gambling: Colorado (1990), Illinois (1990), Indiana (1993), Iowa (1989), Louisiana (1991), Michigan (1996), Mississippi (1990), Missouri (1993), and South Dakota (1989).

STATE-SPONSORED LOTTERIES. In 1964 New Hampshire was the first state to make a lottery legal again. Called the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, it was tied to horse-race results to avoid laws prohibiting lotteries. New York established a lottery in 1967. Twelve other states followed suit during the 1970s. These legal lottery states were concentrated in the Northeast: Connecticut (1972), Delaware (1975), Illinois (1974), Maine (1974), Maryland (1973), Massachusetts (1972), Michigan (1972), New Jersey (1970), Ohio (1974), Pennsylvania (1971), Rhode Island (1974), and Vermont (1977).

An additional twenty-three states and the District of Columbia legalized lotteries during the 1980s and 1990s. The first multistate lottery game began operating in 1988 and included Iowa, Kansas, Oregon, Rhode Island, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It went through several incarnations before becoming the Powerball game in 1992.

South Carolina began operating a lottery in January 2002, following voter approval in a 2000 referendum. In

November 2002 voters in Tennessee and North Dakota approved referendums allowing lotteries in their states. Both began operating in early 2004. Oklahoma started a state-controlled, institutionalized lottery in 2005, followed by North Carolina in 2006. Lotteries are examined in detail in Chapter 7.

NATIVE AMERICAN GAMBLING ENTERPRISES. Native American tribes established bingo halls to raise funds for tribal operations, and these became highly popular during the 1970s. Some of the most successful were high-stakes operations in Maine and Florida, where most other forms of gambling were prohibited. However, as the stakes were raised, the tribes began to face legal opposition from state governments. The tribes argued that their status as sovereign (independent) nations made them exempt from state laws against gambling. Tribes in various states sued, and the issue was debated in court for years. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (480 U.S. 202 [1987]) opened the door to tribal gaming when it found that gambling activities conducted on tribal lands did not fall within the legal jurisdiction of the state. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, passed by Congress in 1988, allowed federally recognized Native American tribes to open gambling establishments on their reservations if the states in which they were located already permitted legalized gambling.

In 2000 California voters passed Proposition 1A, which amended the state constitution to permit Native American tribes to operate lottery games, slot machines, and banking and percentage card games on tribal lands. Previously, the tribes were largely restricted to operating bingo halls. The National Indian Gaming Association states in Indian Gaming Facts (2008, that 225 tribes were engaged in Class II or III gaming in 28 states in 2008. Class II and III gaming includes bingo, lotto, card and table games, slot machines, and pari-mutuel gambling (gambling in which those who bet on the top competitors share the total amount bet and the house gets a percentage). Native American Tribal Casinos are examined in detail in Chapter 5.

INTERNET GAMBLING. During the mid-1990s Internet gambling sites began operating, most of them based in the Caribbean. By the end of the decade, between six hundred and seven hundred Internet gambling sites were available. Christiansen Capital Advisors (January 9, 2006,, which provides analysis and management for the gaming industry, indicates that the Internet segment of the gambling industry was estimated to generate $21 billion worldwide in 2008 and was poised for growth as cellular technologies and other innovations made it easier for patrons to log into gambling sites.

However, even though some countries, such as Great Britain, embraced Internet gambling and began to regulate the industry, the United States took action to interrupt online gambling activity by U.S. gamblers. Passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 made it illegal for banks and credit card companies to process payments from U.S. customers to online gambling Web sites. Many sites immediately stopped accepting customers in the United States. In the press release After Months of Steady Growth, U.S. Online Gambling Shows Decline in October (October 2006,, Nielsen/NetRatings reports a 67% drop in traffic at, the most popular online gambling Web site, between September 2006 and October 2006, the month in which the U.S. law was passed. Overall, Nielsen/NetRatings states that the top-ten online gaming sites experienced a 56% decline in traffic between September 2006 and October 2006. However, Jessica M. Gulash explains in The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act's Effects on the Online Gambling Industry (Journal of Technology Law and Policy, April 2007) that within months many U.S. gamblers were finding ways to circumvent the act. Internet gambling is examined in depth in Chapter 9.


Industry analysts believe many sectors of the American gambling market are reaching maturity. In other words, the growth spurt of the past few decades is likely over. Commercial casino gambling has not spread beyond the eleven states in which it operated in 1996. In November 2004 voters in Maine rejected a referendum that would have allowed tribal casinos in their state, and in 2004 the Alaskan legislature failed to pass a bill that would have paved the way for casinos in Anchorage. In 2005 Oklahoma installed its first slot machines at racetracks, and facilities for slot machines at racetracks opened in 2006 for the first time in Pennsylvania and Florida. Allowing machine gambling at existing gambling venues such as racetracks is generally more acceptable to voters and politicians than full-fledged casino gambling. However, this is not true in all states. Kentucky and Maryland legislators have continually rejected bills that expand gambling at the state's racetracks.

Charitable gambling was the most common type of gaming allowed in 2008, operating in forty-seven states and the District of Columbia. Gambling on horse races was also prevalent, both at live venues and at off-track betting sites. Lotteries operated in forty-two states and the District of Columbia during 2006. Even though tribal casinos were less common, the National Indian Gaming Association indicates in Indian Gaming Facts that in 2008, 423 operations existed in 28 states. Gambling on greyhound races occurred in a handful of states. A number of states that did not allow commercial casinos

allowed card rooms instead, and a few states allowed slot machines at businesses other than casinos. Only Florida offered wagering on jai alai, a fast-paced ball game played on a walled court.


In 1957 two men addicted to gambling decided to meet regularly to discuss the problems gambling had caused them and the changes they needed to make in their life to overcome it. After meeting for several months, each realized that the moral support offered by the other was allowing them to control their desire to gamble. They started an organization based on the spiritual principles used by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups to control addictions. The first group meeting of Gamblers Anonymous was held on September 13, 1957, in Los Angeles, California.

As gambling became more widespread throughout the country, efforts were undertaken to help those whose lives had been negatively affected by gambling. In recognition of the wide social impact of the industry, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized pathological gambling as a mental health disorder in 1980. Pathological gambling was listed under disorders of impulse control and described as a chronic and progressive failure to resist impulses to gamble. During the 1980s many states began setting up programs to offer assistance to compulsive gamblers. Harrah's Entertainment became the first commercial casino company to officially address problem gambling when it instituted the educational campaigns Operation Bet Smart and Project 21 to promote responsible gaming and raise awareness about problems associated with underage gambling.

In 1996 Congress authorized the National Gambling Impact Study Commission to investigate the social and economic consequences of gambling in the country. The federally funded group included nine commissioners representing pro- and antigambling positions. Existing literature was reviewed, and new studies were ordered. The commission held hearings around the country at which a variety of people involved in and affected by the gambling industry testified. In Final Report (June 1999,, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission concluded in 1999 that, except for Internet gambling, gambling policy decisions were best left up to state, tribal, and local governments. The commission also recommended that legalized gambling not be expanded further until all related costs and benefits were identified and reviewed.

Also during 1999, Pathological Gambling: A Critical Review, published by the National Academies Press, identified and analyzed all available scientific research studies dealing with pathological and problem gambling. The researchers estimated that about 1.5% of American adults had been pathological gamblers at some point in their life, with about 1.8 million compulsive gamblers actively gambling during a given year. Even though the researchers were able to draw some general conclusions about the prevalence of pathological gambling in the United States, they cited a lack of scientific evidence as a limiting factor in their ability to draw more specific conclusions. For example, they found that men were more likely than women to be pathological gamblers, but they lacked data to estimate the prevalence of problem gambling among demographic subgroups such as the elderly or those with low incomes.


In May 2008 the Gallup Organization conducted a nationwide poll to determine the moral acceptability of a variety of social issues. Overall, gambling was considered morally acceptable by 63% of those asked. (See Table 1.1.) Roughly the same percentage of people believed the death penalty (62%), medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos (62%), and sex between an unmarried man and woman (61%) were morally acceptable. Joseph Carroll of the Gallup Organization reports in Republicans, Democrats Differ on What Is Morally Acceptable (May 24, 2006, that in May 2006 Democrats and Republicans were found to differ on the moral acceptability of gambling. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Democrats found gambling acceptable, compared to only 54% of Republicans.

TABLE 1.1 Public opinion on the moral acceptability of sixteen issues, May 2008
 Morally acceptable %Morally wrong %
SOURCE: Adapted from Moral Issues, The Gallup Organization, 2008, (accessed July 15, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
The death penalty6230
Medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos6230
Sex between an unmarried man and woman6136
Medical testing on animals5638
Having a baby outside of marriage5541
Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur5439
Doctor-assisted suicide5144
Homosexual relations4848
Cloning animals3361
Cloning humans1185
Polygamy-one husband has more than one wife at the same time890
Married men and women having an affair791

Between February and March 2006 Pew Research Center polled 2,250 adults and asked them about their attitude toward legalized gambling. The results were published by Paul Taylor, Cary Funk, and Peyton Craighill in Gambling: As the Take Rises, So Does Public Concern (May 23, 2006, http://pewresearchorg/assets/social/pdf/Gamblingpdf). In 2006, 71% of adults approved of cash lotteries and 66% approved of bingo for cash prizes. (See Figure 1.1.) Casino gambling and off-track betting on horse races received less support. Legalized betting on professional sports received the lowest approval rating.

Overall, a smaller percentage of Americans approved of gambling in the 2006 Pew poll than did in a similar survey conducted by the Gallup Organization in April 1989 cited by the report. (See Figure 1.1.) Approval of legalized lotteries and bingo dropped the most between 1989 and 2006. Taylor, Funk, and Craighill suggest that

the change in Americans' attitudes about gambling has less to do with moral values and more to do with economic values. Less than one-third (28%) of respondents to the 2006 Pew poll thought gambling was immoral, but 70% of respondents believed legalized gambling caused people to spend more money than they can afford. (See Figure 1.2.) This represented a 13% increase from the 62% of respondents who felt the same way in 1989.

The Pew Research Center took a closer look in 2006 at the demographics of those who believed gambling is morally wrong, morally acceptable, or not a moral issue. Women were more likely than men to believe gambling was morally wrong (38% and 33%, respectively), and more than half (52%) of senior citizens aged sixty-five and older condemned gambling on moral grounds, compared to 30% of adults aged eighteen to forty-nine. (See Table 1.2.)

Income, education, and church attendance were also associated with how people thought about gambling. On the whole, people who are better educated, wealthier, and seldom attend church tended to view gambling as not a moral issue. (See Table 1.2.) By contrast, people with a high school education or less (46%), with family incomes of less than $30,000 (43%), who attend church at least once a week (50%), or who are white, evangelical Protestants (57%) tended to view gambling as morally wrong.

TABLE 1.2 Views of gambling by demographic characteristics, 2006
 Morally wrongMorally acceptableNot a moral issue(Vol.) DependsDon't knowN
N = Population.
SOURCE: Paul Taylor, Cary Funk, and Peyton Craighill, Gambling, in A Barometer of Modern Morals: Sex, Drugs, and the 1040, Pew Research Center, March 28, 2006, (accessed July 18, 2008)
All adults35174233=100745
College grad24175333=100304
Some college26175052=100188
High school or less46173313=100249
Family income
$75,000 or more23195323=100234
$30,000 to $75,00037164331=100254
Less than $30,00043163443=100180
Marital status
Not married30194722=100292
Church attendance
Weekly or more50133133=100290
Monthly or less29214631=100246
Seldom or never21175624=100193
White Evangelical Protestant5772943=100173
White mainline Protestant30204622=100172
Party identification