Ethical Problems of Gambling Addiction

Looking at the ethical view of gambling through the eyes of Utilitarianism and Deontology perspectives we will find 2 very different views with the same outcome. Should there be any restriction of gambling? Is it a form of freedom, or an invitation to addiction? George Washington said: “Gambling is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief.” Benjamin Franklin advised: “Keep flax from fire, and youth from gaming.” There is all kinds of gambling these days, there is internet gaming, sports wagers, casinos, animal fighting , and many other ways , we can even gamble in the stock market.

Utilitarianism suggest that we do what’s right for the most people involved. As I think about that statement the only entity that gambling really helps is the corporation that is presenting the gambling opportunity itself. Money that could be invested, loaned, and recycled through the economy is instead risked in a legalized gambling scheme. Legalized gambling siphons off a lot of money from the economy.

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More money is wagered on gambling than is spent on elementary and secondary education ($286 billion versus $213 billion in 1990). Historian John Ezel concludes in his book, Fortune’s Merry Wheel, “If history teaches us anything, a study of over 1300 legal lotteries held in the United States proves…they cost more than they brought in if their total impact on society is reckoned.”

What is better for the good of society would be to stop gambling all together because only a handful of people may win enough to actually help them in anyway at all.

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Sports gambling has affected sports by introducing organized crime into the sporting arena. Past scandals at Boston College or Tulane illustrate how gambling has adversely affected the integrity of athletes, coaches, and colleges. Players have been involved in point-shaving scandals and the problem could only become worse in an environment where sports gambling is legalized.

The solution in the Utilitarianism perspective would be to not allow gambling because it hurts more cities and people than it helps. Psychologist Julian Taber warns, “No one knows the social costs of gambling or how many players will become addicted…the states are experimenting with the minds of the people on a massive scale.”(7) Families are torn apart by strife, divorce, and bankruptcy. Boydon Cole and Sidney Margolius in their book, When You Gamble–You Risk

More Than Your Money, conclude: “There is no doubt of the destructive effect of gambling on the family life. The corrosive effects of gambling attack both the white-collar and blue-collar families with equal vigor.” Looking at the Deontology perspective we will try to look at the reasons behind gambling. Although gambling has a clear financial effect, it is fundamentally an emotional issue (KalebKaleigh, May 2011).

The behaviors of an addicted gambler can be similar or the same as a drug addict or alcoholic. A 1994 study out of the University of Illinois that indicated the social problems created by gambling, (e.g., gambling addiction, domestic abuse, suicide, crime, indebtedness, etc.) outweigh by far any benefits to the community. In fact, the gambling enterprise costs “taxpayers $3 for every $1 of state revenue collected.” If gambling hurts more than it helps, the denontology perspective would look at why.

Compulsive gamblers find ways to deal with increasing monetary loses without curbing the gambling habit. For instance, going into retirement savings to try their chance at the “big win.” On the other hand, if the gambler becomes increasingly irritable, taking over finances, and spending more time away from home without an explanation, suspect something is wrong (Stannard,2010). The mentality that you can get something for nothing is very addictive.

When I was a bingo caller we would call a new player a virgin because they did not have the feeling of winning yet but after they won and realized how easy it was and how fun the feeling is when you win, they were instantly addicted. They would be there every night looking for that feeling again, even if they didn’t win for 30 days after. People like getting a lot for a little and the excitement of winning is very addictive.

American society has deemed gambling an activity that is victimless and therefore the right to gamble has been upheld. Gambling disorders are broadly defined as persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling that disrupts personal, family, or vocational pursuits (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

If drugs are illegal because of what they do to individuals and families then why shouldn’t gambling be illegal too? The social and economic cost associated with gambling is enormous. Pathological gamblers may develop general medical conditions associated with stress, and there is elevated risk of suicide (Petry, 2005). Pathological gamblers also are reported to have incresed rates of mood disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and substance use disorders (Crockford & el-Guebaly, 1998).

When looking at this through a Deontologist perspective we have to look at the reasons of gambling addiction. The explanation of loss of control of gambling behavior (so-called pathological gambling) presents a considerable challenge for general theories of addiction for two main reasons. First, unlike many other addictions, gambling does not involve the ingestion of substances that alter psychopharmacological states. Second, like many other addictive activities, the majority of the population participates to some degree (Walker 1992b).

Decision making disorders could play a huge role in a gambling addiction. The addict will have problems deciding when to gamble and how much they should gamble. It has been argued (Evans & Coventry 2006) that the explanation of gambling behavior should be seen in the context of two different types of decision making – implicit and explicit systems. The importance of implicit (unconscious) processes in relation to human decision-making and reasoning has been demonstrated across a wide range of decision-making and reasoning tasks (Evans 2003).

Not matter what the reason is for a gambling addiction, gambling can ruin a person and those around them. Gambling causes crime and families being torn apart. No matter which way you look at gambling either through a Deontologist perspective or Utilitarianism perspective, the outcome is the same. When there is gambling introduced to society, there will also be crime and addiction.


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  6. Charles T. Clotfelter and Philip J. Cook, Selling Hope: State Lotteries in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 123-127.
  7. International Gaming and Wagering Business, Supplement, The United States Gross Annual Wager 1997, 30
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  10. Franklin, J, & Thoms, DR In Shaffer H (Ed.) (1989). Clinical observations of family members of compulsive gamblers. Compulsive gambling: Theory, research and practice (pp. 135–146).

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Ethical Problems of Gambling Addiction. (2016, Aug 21). Retrieved from

Ethical Problems of Gambling Addiction

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