Problem Gambling

Problem Gambling

Compulsive Gambling: Do Casinos Share Responsibility?

Executive Summary


Gambling has existed in the United States since colonial times. Despite the many challenges it has faced in the past, the gambling industry has grown into a thriving multi-billion dollar business. Its success can be attributed to its many creative means of attracting and encouraging gamblers. While most adults engage in gambling as an infrequent, leisure activity, a proportion of gamblers exhibit abnormal gambling behavior. This paper is about them.

Problem gamblers (also referred to as compulsive gamblers) are addicted to gambling, and often suffer large financial losses. These losses frequently have a ripple effect, inducing other problems such as social, familial and mental problems. The medical profession has recognized pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder, similar to other behavioral addictions and substance abuse disorders. Yet, the public at large views problem gamblers as rational actors who choose to gamble, and therefore, who should be held accountable for the consequences of their behavior.

The situation, however, is more complex than it appears. Casinos are aware of the existence of problem gamblers and intentionally target them. Studies have shown that people with low incomes living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to become problem gamblers than people with high incomes. It is no coincidence that most casinos are located in economically disadvantaged areas where they can prey on the poor. They send promotional advertisements to problem gamblers, enticing them to visit and misinforming them about their chance of winning. Once on site, problem gamblers are encouraged to keep gambling by the casino environment – free alcohol, artificial oxygen, no sunlight, no display of clocks and much more. Many problem gamblers who try to quit often fail due their own biological deficiencies coupled with an environment that encourages them to gamble.

In search of assistance, some problem gamblers have voluntarily placed their names on self-exclusion lists maintained by casinos. Their hope is that once their names are on the list, casinos will be obligated to turn them away if and when they return to the casinos to gamble. To their disappointment, casinos have failed to

live up to these expectations, often allowing these self-excluded gamblers to return. In some instances, casinos have even continued to send promotional materials to these self-excluded problem gamblers, who frequently relapse. Unfortunately, courts have failed to grant recourse for such gamblers through tort law. Echoing public sentiment, and citing a lack of legislative intent, the courts have held that casinos do not owe self-excluded problem gamblers a duty of care.

This paper explores several potential avenues for legal action to protect problem gamblers from the predatory behavior of casinos, including legislative reforms, tort litigation, regulations and public policies. The goal of these proposed actions is to hold casinos liable for the consequences of predatory targeting of problem gamblers, so that compulsive gamblers will finally have the support of a legal system that recognizes the situational factors at play and apportions responsibility accordingly.

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