General Question

KatawaGrey's avatar

What is the reasoning behind gambling being illegal on US soil?

Asked by KatawaGrey (21461points) August 18th, 2010

I have never understood this. Gambling doesn’t physically hurt anyone and while it can inspire other illegal activity stealing, conning, etc. it does not directly cause other illegal activity.

Can the collective enlighten me as to why gambling is illegal in the US?

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42 Answers

frdelrosario's avatar

The government doesn’t collect its cut from illegal gambling, but makes serious bank on lotteries and approved casinos and such.

JLeslie's avatar

For some it is religious reasons. For others they don’t want gambling in their backyard, because they fear it comes along with the dregs of the earth hanging out at the casinos.

tedd's avatar

It isn’t illegal in the US. At least not the entirety of it (see las vegas for example).

Some states have made it illegal because there is a persisting “moral right” in the country and the populace as a whole that gambling is wrong and causes problems (of all kinds). There is truth to increased crime/alcohol/drugs coming into play when gambling does. But I would expect you’ll probably see gambling legalized in all states within the next 50 years (its over half of them now I believe, I know Ohio just legalized it and is actually setting up 4 casinos using state money as backing).

and @frdelrosario Casino money is most definitely taxed.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@tedd: From what I understand, gambling is illegal on US lands but is legal on Indian reservations and other parts of the country not actually part of the US. I don’t know about Las Vegas though. I thought it was one very large part of the US not governed by the US government.

softtop67's avatar

Gambling laws are State Laws not Federal, thus Indian Reservations are not subject to gambling laws

Mephistopheles's avatar

Same reason the USA has such ridiculous laws regarding alcohol consumption and homosexuality. Religion.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

Residual puritanism.

tedd's avatar

@KatawaGrey As stated by softtop67 gambling is governed on a state level and not a federal one. Up until 50 years ago nearly every state was still coming out of a more “puritanism” state (as stated by Dr Dredd), the same one that led to prohibition. BUT, more and more states of made it legal. Gambling has been legal in Nevada for a long time now (in fact little known fact, prostitution is legal in two counties in Nevada). But anyways nowadays many states have legal gambling, Michigan, Indiana, and now Ohio are the ones I know for sure off the top of my head. And in the case of Ohio, the first 4 casinos (being built in Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland) will be built using some state dollars.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@softtop67, @tedd: Thank you! I was unaware gambling was governed by state laws and not federal.

Is it really just moral? I thought it would be something logical like taxes…

tedd's avatar

@KatawaGrey The arguments against gambling tend to be moral ones. Fear that there will be increased crime, indecency, drugs, alcohol, etc along with gambling (which those fears are not without their merit).

As far as taxes, the government definitely gets their cut of the money, and in fact casinos tend to spur jobs and the economy (they literally built most of Nevada on tax dollars from Las Vegas). The idea behind the casino’s in Ohio is to help boost the economy by keeping vacationers here rather than letting them go out of state to other casinos. Of course then the problem comes in that the Casinos get their money by more or less fleecing the vast majority of their guests….

chyna's avatar

@tedd Add WV to your list of states that allow gambling. There is a casino and dog track 15 minutes from my house.
We had a special election in the county to vote on the casino.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Dr Dredd nailed it. Also, Indian lands are considered independent soverign nations with their own set of laws, passports, etc. (soverign spelling? doesn’t look quite right)

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Here is a list of which states allow gambling in the US by type.

DominicX's avatar


Gambling is legal in the entire state of Nevada. As far as I know, Nevada is an integral part of the U.S. :)


Prostitution is legal in 12 Nevada counties, but only active in 8. Nevada is a crazy place. :P (I was born and raised there).

gailcalled's avatar

What about church-sponsered Bingo?

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Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@gailcalled “Church bingo” probably falls into the ‘charitable’ group on the link above. Weird though…I just noticed that it only lists 48 states…who’s missing from the count?

Edit: Never mind…It is Utah and Hawaii.

tedd's avatar

@DominicX I stand corrected, 12 counties…. I may have to plan a trip…... ba-ZING

JLeslie's avatar

@gailcalled Is it just the Catholics who do the bingo? I don’t think of them as being the ones up in arms about gambling.

MeinTeil's avatar

The fun police.

America’s subjects need to be saved from themselves by the all wise government.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Because the US is not the land of the free whatever the song might say…

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Oregon allows gambling, too. From a citizen standpoint, it could definitely be for “moral” reasons. But from the government’s POV? It’s definitely because they want to be able to tax it.

BoBo1946's avatar

@softtop67 that would be correct. We have several casinos here that are run by the Choctaws! they pay better than most!

woodcutter's avatar

we were on an ocean going ship that had all the gambling games on board. They couldn’t start them up until they were a certain distance from the mainland, international waters?

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@woodcutter Yup. Whenever I visit my grandfather in Fort Lauderdale, you can see a line of cruise ships across the entire horizon, just outside of U.S. territorial waters.

Coloma's avatar

Gambling and prostitution is legal in Nevada, just an hour from me.

BUT..Lobsters are illegal.

You can gamble and hook but you can’t own a live lobster. lolol

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gailcalled's avatar

@JLeslie: Although I was careful not to specify the Catholic church, I certainly had it in mind.

Quaker Meeting and Jewish Synagogues do not play bingo, I don’t think. They feel that you just put your hand in your pocket and donate what you can afford.

wundayatta's avatar

Certainly religious morality has been the historical reason why states have opposed gambling. One has to wonder how that became moral. I think the reason also sheds light on problem with gambling, which is that it can make gamblers forget their obligations to their family or community.

Gambling bankrupts some people. It can create homelessness. It can create mental health problems. If the family’s money is all being spent on gambling, we have a family who may not have enough to eat, or clothes or whatever.

I really don’t want any casinos in my town. Not just because of the potential harm to individuals and families, but because of what it does to communities. For whatever reason, the state has decided to locate the two casinos right in the middle of working class neighborhoods. These are people who are most easily hurt by gambling. The casinos will provide a place for them to forget their troubles (while losing their savings), and in addition, they will create traffic problems and noise problems and who knows what else.

If you have to have gambling, it’s best to have it in places that are only about gambling. They don’t really belong in our neighborhoods.

In truth, though, gambling needs to be understood as entertainment. Far too many people think it’s a way to earn money. They don’t understand that the odds are stacked steeply against them. Even if they know this, they often think they can beat the odds because they are lucky or smart or something.

Gambling is just a way to take money from the ill-informed. I’m glad they are having trouble now, and it makes me sick that gambling taxes are being used to fund education in my state.

JLeslie's avatar

@gailcalled I have no problem with the Catholics playing bingo, I just didn’t know if the other Christians do it. I remember in NC we did not have the lottery, so I was thinking if those Baptists are playing bingo it seemed hypocritical.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Wow, so many responses! Thank you all for answering.

What I wonder is would local economies go through the roof if gambling was legalized everywhere because more people would be spending money and there would be more taxes or would local economies drop because everyone would lose their money.

wundayatta's avatar

@KatawaGrey Good question. We’d have to look at the so-called “multiplier effect.” Do dollars spent in the local economy have a greater multiplier effect than money spent in a casino that is sent off to corporate headquarters? On the face of it, it’s hard to see how money leaving the area could have a greater impact than money that stays in the area, no matter how high the taxes on the money that leaves town.

I’d rather people spent money at the corner store, even if they charge too much for food, than at the casino. I think most people would. Especially if all the tax dollars raised go to pay for gambling addiction therapy and homeless shelters.

JLeslie's avatar

@KatawaGrey We do have a lottery in most states that generates millions for schools.

In Tunica, Mississippi they generate an enourmous amount of tax revenue from gambling. From the hotel stays, restaurants, shows, not just the gambling itself. But, @wundayatta point is a good one, some of the tax money gets spent on some of the mess gambling brings with it. This link has a little about the economy in Tunica since gambling came to town,_Mississippi I think when gambling pops up in the middle of nowhere and creates a town or city around it people are more accepting. When there is already a city and they want to add gambling people are not happy with the idea.

john65pennington's avatar

We had legalized bingo in Nashville in the 80s. the Bingo Commision went crooked and issued too many bingo permits to individuals and a criminal investigation ensued. president of the Bingo Commision killed himself and all the permits were recalled. this killed bingo here. we now go to Kentucky.

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KatawaGrey's avatar

@wundayatta: Another side is the revenue generated outside the casinos. People might lose a bunch in the casino, but they also will be staying in hotels and eating at restaurants in the community. It is an interesting thought.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Puritanical religious groups continue to influence state governments to restrict activities they consider immoral. The religious right loves to impose their notion of morals on all others and their influence on the republican party and the tea baggers are reasons for concerns that the rights of others will continue to be reduced and denied.

augustlan's avatar

Where I live (West Virginia), casinos are legal. On Sundays, though, you can’t buy beer and wine before 1PM or liquor at all. I don’t understand why we still have blue laws about alcohol, but you can gamble at will. It’s a weird place.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@augustlan: In CT, you can’t by alcohol on Sundays at all. RIDICULOUS. Also, nothing’s open on Sundays. MOAR RIDICULOUS.

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