The Hypocrisy of the United States Gambling Laws

Gambling is for the most part under the jurisdiction of state law in the US, and every state has laws that relate to gambling.  Some form of legal gambling is permitted in 48 of our 50 states, however only one state (Nevada) has legalized most forms of gambling on a state-wide basis.  Gambling has been a vital part of American society since the 18the century, and the general trend is that the availability of and participation in gambling in the US is on the rise.  Many people don’t realize that lotteries were used to establish or improve dozens of universities and hundreds of secondary schools during the 18th and 19th centuries.
We are told, however, by opponents of legalized gambling that gambling is addictive, leads to financial ruin, harms families, promotes criminal activity, is immoral, is a vice, is a sin, and is a regressive tax that hurts low-earners.  These opponents’ influence over lawmakers has succeeded in keeping most forms of gambling illegal in most US jurisdictions.
Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have state-run lotteries. Forty-seven states allow charitable gambling such as bingo. Thirty-nine states permit pari-mutuel wagering. Nineteen states have legalized commercial casinos. Thirty states have Indian casinos. Only the states of Hawaii and Utah forbid all forms of gambling.
The fact that some forms of gambling are illegal and some aren’t isn’t what makes the legal landscape for gambling in the US hypocritical – or at least it’s not the main thing.  What makes US gambling laws hypocritical is which forms of gambling are permitted and which aren’t.
In 43 states in the US, you can purchase tickets to the country’s two most popular lotteries – Mega Millions and Powerball.  Your chances of winning the jackpot from a single ticket in a Mega Millions drawing are around one in 259 million; in Powerball the odds are around one in 176 Million.  The odds of winning anything from a single Mega Millions ticket recently improved from one in 40 to one in 15; in Powerball the odds are around one in 32.  Only 50 cents of each dollar spent on a lottery ticket goes into the prize pool.
For reference, it is far more likely that you will become President of the United States than win a lottery jackpot.  You are over 200 times more likely to be struck by lightening than you are to win the big prize in Mega Millions or Powerball.
By contrast, your chances of beating the house in a hand of blackjack are around one in 2.2.  The house edge in some casino games of blackjack is around only one percent.  Similarly, the house edge for some rolls in craps is less than one percent.  Even in roulette the house edge is only a little over five percent.
If gambling should be proscribed by governments because it is harmful, ruinous, crime-fostering, or immoral, then shouldn’t governments — to be consistent — outlaw all forms of gambling?  Of all forms of gambling, they certainly should not be running lotteries, which offer far worse odds for players than all forms of casino gambling.  How can the 48 states that allow certain forms of gambling justify any of their laws that make non-lottery forms of gambling a criminal activity?
It seems to me there is only one logically consistent approach to gambling laws, which is to give people the freedom to make any wager or bet any amount of money they choose on sporting events, horse races, casino gambling, pari-mutuel wagering, lotteries, prediction markets, private poker games, or any other gambling activity.   This is a vital issue to our nation for a few reasons.  First, Americans want to gamble, and they should be allowed to gamble.  I agree with Laurence M. Vance, from whom I borrowed some of the information in this post and who wrote that in most cases, the peaceful, voluntary actions of consenting adults should not be restricted.  Second, our nation is struggling with how to address online gambling, and these issues should be considered when creating our nation’s online gambling policy.  Third, gambling could be a huge economic engine for the US if the restrictive laws prohibiting it were relaxed.

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