Research on allowing alcohol but banning gambling?
November 9, 2022 3:42 AM   Subscribe

Please delete if this is chatfilter. I've been learning a lot recently about the damage gambling addiction does to people, and it's common among my peer group to argue for an end to sports betting, casinos, and loot boxes, etc. The same people are very unlikely to extend this thought to tighter controls on alcohol. Why?

I've seen first hand the pain of alcohol addiction, and I'm struggling to understand why someone may say gambling should be prevented, but allow alcohol.

Is there any writing or research on this topic? I'm slowly forming my own view, but I'd like to learn more too. Any googling on the topic just brings up support and resources for people struggling with alcoholism or a gambling addiction.
posted by Braeburn to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do your peers themselves do a lot of sports betting and casino play?

Do they enjoy alcohol socially, or who move in circles that do?

If the answer is "no" to the former but "yes" to the latter, then it's likely just garden-variety us/them dynamics. The social groups that engage (or are imagined to engage) in online gambling are often very different from the social groups that enjoy a few cocktails after work. Their recreational vices are degrading and dangerous and should be outlawed. Our recreational vices are understandable, even healthy, ways to unwind and relax.
posted by Bardolph at 3:57 AM on November 9, 2022 [21 favorites]

Yeah, if I had to guess, it’s because your peers probably haven’t seen the damage alcohol can do the way you have. This is at least in part because alcohol abuse is pretty widespread and so things like DUI accidents are just considered normal. Gambling has only been legalized (outside of a few places in the US) pretty recently, so it’s harder to accept gambling addiction as normal yet.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:13 AM on November 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

I mean, there's also the fact that alcohol prohibition has in fact been tried and it didn't go great. (And that prohibition of consumption of substances in general doesn't seem to be a slam dunk in terms of whether it has an overall positive impact, see The War on Drugs etc.)

And it does seem like gambling restrictions have not caught up with the current state of things - loot boxes are available to children, for example, who would not be allowed on a casino gaming floor or even allowed to purchase a lottery ticket in many places, whereas (at least in the US, not sure about elsewhere) alcohol laws have, if anything, tightened up over the last 40-50 years (laws around age for purchasing alcohol, drunk driving laws, "Happy Hour" laws).
posted by mskyle at 5:08 AM on November 9, 2022 [15 favorites]

My guess would be class-related dynamics: gambling is seen as a more working class vice
posted by lemur at 5:33 AM on November 9, 2022 [6 favorites]

My sense is that if you consume media, promotion of gambling--in the US, at any rate-- has really exploded in recent years. There were always TV ads about state lotteries, but the sports gambling and casino ads have become much, much more ubiquitous. (I think it's really insidious that you can't escape the subject of sports gambling any more when you watch a game.) Meanwhile, promotion of alcohol, both commercially and in the way media subtly promote it, is something we're inured to, as we're inured to alcohol use.

Also in the part of the US I live in, disputes about gambling are pretty intense and interwoven with real estate and politics in a very obvious way. Yes, with regard to alcohol you have turf and boundary struggles to do with relative taxes and sales restrictions and so on. But with gambling right at this moment, all the suburbs of Chicago, and on into Indiana, are fighting over who gets to control and profit from gambling. People are very conscious of casinos moving near their houses, with all the lifestyle implications of that. So I think it's sort of a new phenomenon for some people and brings a feeling of urgency, like, if we let the group that owns the casino or the racetrack take over this whole area, there will be no going back.
posted by BibiRose at 5:36 AM on November 9, 2022 [5 favorites]

I think also that gambling facilities are purposefully exploiting gamblers and hoping they become addicted. Bartenders are not exploiting drinkers and hoping they become addicted--generally quite the contrary. Bartenders, restaurants and liquor stores don't want sloppy drunks around and there are laws about over-serving or selling to visibly drunk people. There aren't laws about gamblers who keep losing money, if anything they encourage them to keep going.
posted by greta simone at 6:38 AM on November 9, 2022 [10 favorites]

It's about harm reduction. We have a vast patchwork of fed/state/local laws about alcohol. We could probably do better, but the fact is we've kind of settled at an equilibrium of personal liberty vs. societal harm that most parties are relatively ok with. Also worth noting humans have been drinking in neighborhood bars for a few thousand years at least. So we are collectively pretty sure we know the rough shape of how this works.

Contrast online sports book (including traditional but also 'fantasy' leagues, 'duels', I'm sure all kinds of stuff you haven't heard of). Online election books. Online loot boxes. Then there's newer physical space gambling like tiny video poker shacks, and all the other weird ways states have loosened up regulation. All this online stuff is much newer, period, and has only very new and shaky laws supporting a very sketchy system. Yes, gambling has been around for thousands of years too, but it's only online gambling that allows your average person to gamble all day every day, and it's only recently that their pro-addiction advertising and "services" have really been able to reach the masses, relatively independent of geography or income level.

While they have some similarities in terms of the concept of how govt should regulate personal actions that cause societal harm, gambling and imbibing are really rather different things, and other than thinking they should neither be completely banned nor completely unregulated, I don't see that one has much to do with the other in terms of informing what that regulation should look like.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:07 AM on November 9, 2022 [6 favorites]

This overlaps with some of the observations above, but phrased differently: I think they are in different enough domains that they trigger different intuitions when people start thinking about public policy.

Suggesting a drinking ban makes people ask whether it's worth it to infringe on "bodily autonomy." It's a high bar to get many people to go along with that. Telling people what they can do in the privacy of their home, well, you better have a good reason.

Gambling, though, looks like a shady, exploitive and deceptive business practice. Especially loot boxes or (looking at the adds) the fantasy sport betting. Promising returns that won't materialize at bad prices. The bar to ban a business like that is very low--it's more like thinking payday lenders need to be regulated than a liberty issue.

In support of this, I would wager (heh) that few of your peers care much about the office NCAA tournament pool or a friendly poker game, when gambling is taken out of the deceptive business sphere. And they are probably much more open to restrictions on marketing and advertising for alcohol, or on regulations around bars, than they are to things that restrict your ability to buy a bottle of something and bring it home.

There are philosophical and legal arguments for treating these differently--I think JS Mill had something about allowing vice (because people needed to be allowed do their own thing) but not needing to allow vice purveyors (just make your money some other way).
posted by mark k at 7:31 AM on November 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I mean, WHY your peer group feels strongly about gambling but not about drinking... really depends on who your peer group is.

My peer group are active gamblers in a low-key way, a lot of us grew up going to the track and now place a few bets online for big sports weekends regularly. And, we're also largely drinkers, if not heavy drinkers. We're almost 100% in support of full drug legalization. So there's a consistency there; a value in our group for peoples' right to do what they want with their bodies and their money. (We also have a value of not harming other people with your vices--we're not going to indulge a friend who keeps getting DUIs or who gambles away their child support money.)

THAT SAID, I think all of us have also been a little surprised/disconcerted by the huge push by gambling companies into the ad space. Not enough to be like, "this shouldn't be legal" but just, "hoo, that seems like kind of a bad plan."

As others have pointed out, alcohol regulation is fairly substantial. Age, location, time, driving restrictions all exist and are more or less enforced. When someone is hurt or killed by a drunk driver there is legal recourse. Car insurance makes you whole if your car is totaled. People who serve underage kids or over-drunk people can be fired or suffer legal penalties.

Currently it feels like gambling is the wild west a bit...lots of opportunities for people to take advantage of folks who feel "safer" on their phones than they would in a casino or a racetrack. Not a lot of recourse for folks who are harmed.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:10 AM on November 9, 2022 [7 favorites]

The link in your post, OP, is about "unregulated" gambling. Alcohol is highly regulated. Do your friends really want to ban all gambling -- to actually criminalize gambling, like alcohol in the 1920s -- or to work towards harm reduction by making it more regulated?
posted by ojocaliente at 8:20 AM on November 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

I would argue that you and your friends are both reducing very complex issues down to soundbites that don't solve any problems, so you're not going to find a lot of research into that.

But socially it's fairly easy to say the business of gambling needs to be dealt with in various ways. It's not about the gamblers. People will compulsively jangle their nervous systems SOMEHOW no matter what. They will solve that problem, as humanoids have done for literally all of human time, and some of it will involve a wagering process. And 20 seconds later someone will invent a middleperson position to profit off those wagers in both directions, so that problem re-emerges pretty quickly. (Though you could argue that regulation, in the form of middleperson being an extremely dangerous job, would emerge 20 seconds after that.)

Prohibition is never really about fixing anything - alcohol is not really the underlying driver of addiction for most addicts, any more than binge-watching TV shows for hours on end is the cause of depression for most depressives. Disallowing the production of alcohol, as a proposed solution, instead of implementation of all the systems we are missing that are being stop-gapped by alcohol use FIRST, in this time and place, is suicide advocacy to the extent of basically being genocide and/or eugenics, and that is why it is not as popular to take that position. Is there a route where alcohol one day holds a similar place in culture as laudanum does today? Yeah, but it doesn't start with prohibition of alcohol.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:28 AM on November 9, 2022

The answer is a historical one. The distinction between alcohol and gambling is deeply rooted in classical liberalism.

In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued against banning the sale of alcohol, with particular reference to the American prohibition movement, which he described as a 'monstrous' infringement of individual freedom. However, he was much more sympathetic to the idea of restricting gambling, which he saw as a serious social evil. True to his principle of personal liberty, he didn't think that gambling should be banned completely. If people really wanted to gamble their money away, they should be allowed to. But he saw 'considerable force' in the argument that 'public gambling-houses should not be permitted' and that private casinos, like brothels, should be 'compelled to conduct their operations with a certain degree of secrecy and mystery, so that nobody knows anything about them but those who seek them'.

Whether they know it or not, those who say that alcohol should be allowed (or only lightly regulated) but gambling should be banned (or heavily regulated) are following in Mill's footsteps. The assumption is that alcohol only harms the individual (and perhaps their friends and family -- but that's a price worth paying to preserve the principle of personal liberty) whereas gambling harms society.
posted by verstegan at 10:46 AM on November 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Alcohol has been a large scale business far longer than gambling has.

I think all the "official betting partner of the NFL" stuff is pretty crazy. And here in Washington, the tribal casinos were able to get legislation to do sports betting, and so all the tribal casinos now have sports books.

I think many people think that there is "skill" involved in gambling, which in some sense there is, while drinking a lot is just seen as a vice and a personal failing. I think we we see gambling moving towards a vice as it spreads.
posted by Windopaene at 10:59 AM on November 9, 2022

I think also that gambling facilities are purposefully exploiting gamblers and hoping they become addicted...

Actually, so are major corporate food industry giants who manipulate salt, sugar and fat palatability, not to mention tobacco companies, opioid producers, and others. I don't know how alcohol producers have talked about getting people just hooked enough to keep buying, but it wouldn't surprise me, and bartenders who have to deal with sloppy drunks are not the ones making the profits on alcohol.
posted by ojocaliente at 11:01 AM on November 9, 2022

Australia has the highest per capita losses on gambling of any country.

So from personal observation, problem gamblers are less likely to be identified or stigmatised - they are often model employees as they are keen to work to earn money, there are no hangovers, or physical manifestations of over-indulgence and there is nothing to show that the gambling losses were extreme. Also the amount of losses is effectively uncapped - you can lose hundreds, thousands, millions.

With alcohol there are physical limits - yes you can buy a $2,000 bottle of wine or whiskey - but even at that price you would be hard pressed to drink $20,000 worth.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 2:39 PM on November 9, 2022

One thing that I haven't noticed anybody mention is that alcohol is, like, an ingredient and a consumable? All of us drink liquids to some extent, whether we drink alcohol or not. For people who do drink alcohol, there is a spectrum of enjoyment that starts at taste and continues down the line into intoxication.

Gambling, on the other hand, is just gambling? There's elements of hope and fun and excitement, but it's not a subset of something I do every day.
posted by redsparkler at 8:54 PM on November 9, 2022

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