No Shame in Gambling?

No Shame in Gambling?

Not in America, says CSOM's Fr. McGowan, author of a new book on the $60-billion industry

By Rosanne Pellegrini
Staff Writer

Americans love to gamble, and it shows, says Adj. Assoc. Prof. Richard McGowan, SJ (CSOM): Gambling expenditures in the United States remain the highest in the world, with leisure dollars fueling a $60-billion industry poised for continued expansion.

Adj. Assoc. Prof. Richard McGowan, SJ (CSOM): The gambling industry's attempt to transform its image by renaming itself "the gaming industry" drew criticism, he says, but "in addition to resulting in public acceptance, it played a significant role in the current expansion of gambling activities and competition among various segments of the industry." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Despite long odds, games of chance increasingly captivate consumers "and the guilt and shame of being a 'gambler' has vanished from the American conscience," said Fr. McGowan, who has dubbed the 21st century "a new era of tolerated gaming" in his recent book, Government and the Transformation of the Gaming Industry.

"The most important trend that observers of the gaming industry must watch is the social acceptance of gambling," which has enabled the industry to enter the coveted - and lucrative - mainstream of American entertainment, said Fr. McGowan.

During the 1990s, he said, "the gambling industry transformed its image by referring to itself as the 'gaming industry.' Critics scoffed at and dismissed this deliberate use of the term 'game.' But in addition to resulting in public acceptance, it played a significant role in the current expansion of gambling activities and competition among various segments of the industry."

Entertainment has indeed become big business in the US, according to Fr. McGowan, and gaming accounted for 36 percent of the nearly $100 billion spent on entertainment by Americans in 1999.

"The industry's evolution has had profound implications not only for the gambling and entertainment industries but also for American society as a whole."

His book chronicles the social impact of gaming on society, in addition to the economic and political forces that shape the 21st century gaming industry in a competitive and turbulent environment.

Much more than previous generations, he says, "21st-century American society has taken to games of chance, particularly in terms of casino gambling." As a result, new casino locations have emerged in nearly every region of the country.

"Consumer demand has profound implications for the types of entertainment Americans want, and expect to find, as they spend their leisure dollars," he said. The most successful Native American casino, Connecticut's Foxwoods, now offers golfing, shopping and shows, he notes.

Fr. McGowan examines the historical and cultural forces that affect the gaming industry, with emphasis on the two types of games: games of skill (agon) and games of chance (alea). He also analyzes how each segment of the industry - pari-mutuel betting, lotteries and casinos - has devised aggressive strategies to compete in this new environment, developing new games as well as marketing existing games.

"The gaming industry has just emerged from a giddy period of unprecedented expansion, but the future is beginning to look a bit more uncertain. Any growth is currently fueled by the expansion of the casino segment. If this trend continues, the casino industry will soon have a monopoly position over the entire gaming industry."

But, Fr. McGowan concluded, "it is on the social and political fronts where the gaming industry will find its greatest threats, such as the growing problem of addiction."

In addition to forecasting future industry changes, he offers recommendations to enable the gaming industry, anti-gambling groups and government in developing policies that mitigate gambling-related problems. He suggests raising the minimum legal age to gamble, increasing competition or giving players a better rate of return and tightening federal regulation of the gaming industry.

Fr. McGowan has done extensive research on the various "sin" industries, such as cigarettes and alcohol, and is the author of books including State Lotteries and Legalized Gambling: Painless Revenue or Painful Mirage.


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