gambling, sociology of

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gambling, sociology of Strictly speaking, to gamble is to engage in a game of chance in pursuit of some gain, with skill playing no part. In practice, however, the term is used more broadly. Diverse forms of gambling have been subject to a mixed history of permissiveness and prohibition. Lotteries are revealed in the Bible as a means of discerning God's will in making certain decisions; today they generate funds for charities, state governments, and (most obviously) their promoters. Historically, there have been periods during which it has been difficult to distinguish between gambling, speculative enterprise, and insurance, with consequent constraints upon each (see, for example, R. Brenner and and G. Brenner , Gambling and Speculation: A Theory, a History, and a Future of Some Human Decisions, 1990
). Most countries now acknowledge the popularity of licensed or legal betting, for example on various sports contests such as races, or on the outcome of games of chance (like roulette) or strategy (such as poker)—or some mix of the two.

Where prohibition is in force, informal and criminal economies related to gambling may develop, and both serious criminal profiteering and political corruption are common. Note, however, that licensed gambling does not prevent illegal forms also prospering. Where it has been criminalized, gambling is often described as a victimless crime.

Attempts to exert restrictive controls over gambling in Western societies can be associated with the principles of Protestantism and the capitalist work ethic: the virtues of thrift, discipline, prudence, and rational calculation are inverted by the gambler's hedonism, trust in chance, and decision-making based on superstition. If allowed to spread such values would erode fundamental bases of the spirit of rational industrialized (modern) capitalism. Of course this is an idealized and somewhat artificial contrast: in truth, success in modern capitalism may well depend upon risk-taking, bold and aggressive unpredictability, and an element of luck (an entrepreneur playing the market in ‘futures’ would be an example). Conversely, David Downes and his colleagues (Gambling, Work and Leisure: A Study across Three Areas, 1976), have argued that the majority of gamblers are not reckless, use any large win thriftily, and budget their expenditure with considerable care.

Explanations of the motivations for gambling tend to mix the sociological and psychological, although psychoanalytic theories may also dwell on compulsive, neurotic character traits. Some have argued that gambling represents part of a combative instinct that can acceptably be expressed in modern, civilized society, via the medium of playing games. There is little or no evidence in research to suggest that petty gamblers are significantly different from non-gamblers—although their life-styles may be more secular. For non-compulsive players, gambling offers one or both of two principal attractions, namely entertainment and the chance to win wealth (see O. Newman , Gambling: Hazard and Reward, 1972