CATO Policy Analysis Criticizes NGISC

8 July 1999
In response to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission's final report issued on June 18, The Cato Institute published a Policy Analysis which criticizes the panel for failing to consider the risks of government intervention.

"The federal government should resist pressure to involve itself further in gambling," writes Wall Street analyst Guy Calvert in "Gambling America: Balancing the Risks of Gambling and Its Regulation." According to Calvert. "A coercive effort to eliminate or reduce gambling must compete with that formidable opponent, human nature. Lawmakers need to balance the risks." "Risks include the fact that harsh government measures intended to suppress gambling will likely usher in a new era of public corruption by compromising the integrity of government officials, judges, and the police," he writes. And, he notes, these measures would do little or nothing to actually deter compulsive gamblers from gambling.

He also writes that commission proceedings "obscure the important point that gambling, for the vast majority of people, is simply a matter of fun, a voluntary and harmless pursuit that many find rewarding. In moderation, it is neither less wholesome nor less rational than other sources of entertainment, such as television, the opera, or competitive sports."

Calvert takes issue with those who argue that gambling is immoral and therefore should be regulated and/or banned. "The morality issue is beside the point -- if gambling is a vice, then it is a matter for philosophers and the clergy, and ultimately, individual conscience," he writes. "A more paternalistic government policy would, quite apart from intruding on the liberties of gamblers and others, make a mockery of any doctrine of individual responsibility -- hardly the best way to sustain the moral health of the nation." Instead, he argues that the best remedy for compulsive gamblers should be counseling and abstinence, not government intervention to prohibit or limit gambling.

Calvert also notes that, contrary to popular belief, those who gamble in casinos are "not crazed, welfare-dependent casino desperados." In fact, they are more educated and have a higher household income than average Americans and are much better off than lottery players -- and lotteries are regulated by state governments and run by them as a monopoly.

View the Executive Summary

View the entire Policy Analysis