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Gambling USA: We are rolling the dice more than ever

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: March 15, 2006

Americans are gambling more than ever and generally say they support state licensing of lotteries, casinos, horse and dog tracks and charitable bingo parlors, according a new Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll.

For the first time, a majority of adults say they've placed at least one wager in a casino, while a third said they've gone to these betting parlors three times or more.

"The American public has accepted legalized gambling as a means to spend their money for entertainment," concluded Frank Fahrenkopf, American Gaming Association president and the Republican Party chairman during the Reagan administration. "People no longer have any problem with organized gambling."

Gambling opponents agreed.

"America is on a gambling binge. The more available and accessible it becomes, the more gambling is acceptable to people," said Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "But shouldn't government be encouraging people to save their money instead of encouraging them to gamble?"

The Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University conducted a 10-year trend study, asking questions about gambling participation and attitudes of 1,025 adults contacted in 1996 and of 1,007 adults interviewed Feb. 19 to March 3.

Support for all major forms of gambling rose during this period.

The biggest change has been in attitudes over Las Vegas-style casino gambling. Only 43 percent said they favored casino operations in their state in 1996, while 53 percent favor them this year. People who say they've personally placed bets in a casino rose from 47 percent to 58 percent.

"There is a changing dynamic for how Americans view gambling," Fahrenkopf said. "Now a days, people like to go to Los Vegas not just to gamble, but to golf, enjoy the health spas and the entertainment malls."

Experts agree the change has been driven by a dramatic increase in the availability of casinos. Eleven states have licensed professional casino operations, while 184 American Indian groups have opened a variety of betting parlors in 30 states.

Grey said he takes comfort from the fact that the percentage of Americans who say there is "not enough gambling" available in America has declined slightly from 12 percent a decade ago to 10 percent today. "If gambling were delivering spectacular results, everyone would be saying we don't have enough," he said.

In 2004, voters rejected state referendums to expand gambling operations in California, Nebraska, Michigan, Missouri and the state of Washington. Only Florida voters voted that year to allow local counties decide whether to permit slot machines at dog-racing tracks.

"That shows the gambling industry is having trouble selling itself to expand still further, even with all the government promotion it receives," Grey said.

The poll found a significant divergence of opinion along religious lines. About half of people who've attended a worship service recently said they believe gambling has been legalized in "too many places" compared with less than a third of people who've not gone to church lately.

"There is a hard core _ about 10 or 15 percent of the public _ who are totally opposed to all forms of gambling on moral grounds," said Fahrenkopf. "Usually they are the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Nothing is going to change their minds, God bless them."

Although public acceptance of state-licensed gambling is generally up, participation in different types of gambling varies considerably. Betting in casinos has risen dramatically, but the number of people who participate in state lotteries is up only slightly. The percentage of people who bet at dog- and horse-racing tracks has declined slightly, as has the percentage of the public who bet on football and basketball games.

Americans still overwhelmingly favor allowing private bingo for charitable organizations.

The two polls found very little change over the broader question of whether state-licensed gambling is an acceptable way for governments to raise revenue. Fifty-two percent said gambling is acceptable in 1996 and 54 percent said the same this year.

Both surveys were sponsored by grants from the Scripps Howard Foundation. The polls each have a 4 percentage point margin of error.