Gambling in America Hits Record Highs–Are You Concerned?
The Super Bowl is in the rear view mirror, but the results of the competition may linger for some. And I’m not referring to fans of the victorious Rams or the runner-up Bengals. I mean millions of Americans who made a wager on the game.
According to the American Gaming Association (AGA), the national trade group for casinos and their partners, the number of U.S. adults who planned to place a bet on the big game jumped 35 percent from last year to 31.5 million— a record. The AGA also expected those individuals to gamble $7.61 billion on the event, a 78 percent jump from the dollar numbers risked last year.
Those numbers are eye-popping, but they are also part of a larger trend. The AGA released numbers a couple days after the Super Bowl that showed 2021 was actually the best year on record for the casino industry. The industry made $53 billion last year, a major increase from 2020 and a 21 percent boost from the previous high in 2019.
Most of that take for the casinos came from slots and table games. But sports betting saw exponential growth. Americans bet $57 billion on competitions last year — a jump of 165 percent from 2020. The resulting $4.3 billion in revenue boosted the industry’s bottom line by 177 percent year-over-year in that category.
It’s no wonder we’re seeing so many gambling ads during sports events on TV.
Sadly, the thrill of the bet is not the end of the story for many. In an Atlantic article last fall exploring gambling, columnist Stephen Marche suggested there are benefits and costs to be considered.
“The chief benefit is that there’s a lot of money to be made, for governments and businesses both,” he said. “The primary cost is that many unlucky and vulnerable people are destroyed.”
Even in the simplest look at gambling, it is clear the practice requires there to be winners and losers. For the losers, there is an immediate financial cost — a cost that can be devastating if not hedged against. But even the winners are not home free and living on easy street. After all, why do the casinos make so much money? Because people keep betting, and as the old adage says, “The house always wins.”
Beneath that basic dollars and cents look at gambling, there are other issues. One big one is addiction. The Mayo Clinic says, “Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction. If you have a problem with compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets that lead to losses, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.”
Data suggests that millions of Americans struggle with gambling addiction. And there is a steep cost for them and their families, as well as society at large.
But so far Americans don’t seem troubled by gambling. Gallup 2021 numbers show that nearly 7 in 10 American adults think gambling is morally acceptable. And even in churches, opinions are mixed. For example, according to a Lifeway Research release in 2016, fewer than half of evangelicals regularly attending church services thought sports betting was morally wrong.
This is striking when you consider the cultural battles against the ills of gambling in years not too far past. I suspect churches will need to come to terms with this exploding trend in our society one way or another as the money gets bigger and the problems grow deeper.
Specifically regarding the Super Bowl betting, one longtime advocate against the dangers of gambling recently told Christianity Today, “I think there’s going to be a lot of devastation to individuals and families the following weeks…What do you do when you’ve lost all that money? Paying it back, that could take a lifetime.”
Those people are going to need help and hope.
Are you concerned by the increased gambling and acceptance of it? How are you praying?
Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (I Timothy 6:10)
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