Skip to main content

gambling, sociology of

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
).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"gambling, sociology of." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"gambling, sociology of." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gambling-sociology

"gambling, sociology of." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved August 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gambling-sociology

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.