Legalized gambling has grabbed hold of America’s consciousness. Over the last three decades, it’s rooted itself in scores of cities and towns in every region of the country – including many that never before have had to deal directly with the fallout.
State governments have brought commercial casinos, card rooms and slot machines by the thousands into their jurisdictions. Native American tribes have renegotiated compacts in more than two dozen states to allow for new casinos. The poker craze has proved amazingly durable. Internet gambling drew millions of Americans to their computers before the federal government in 2011 effectively shut down the top sites – a setback online gambling proponents are working hard to overturn. Forty-three states each currently sponsor heavily promoted lotteries.
In 2014, Americans lost $142 billion gambling – a shocking 13 times what we lost in 1982.
Because of this unrelenting growth, millions of us for the first time have been exposed to gambling. As a result, there’s been an increase in the number of addicted gamblers around the country.
This growth has resulted in higher social costs we all pay for, running the gamut from rising indebtedness, bankruptcies and home foreclosures to increases in gambling-related crimes such as burglaries and domestic violence, and in the worst cases, suicides.
The Great Recession only thickened the plot. Desperate state officials, facing unprecedented budget shortfalls, turned to legalized gambling as a panacea – a trend that continues. As elected officials are urging voters to grow gambling’s reach, the industry’s supporters and their equally impassioned detractors are squaring off in prolonged state-by-state battles. In 2009-2010, for example, officials in three out of four states pushed to expand legalized gambling, often successfully.
The last five years, from 2012 to 2016, proved to be the busiest yet for gambling supporters and their lobbyists intent on legalizing wagering everywhere they can. Pro-gambling interests pressured state legislators across the country to approve new casinos, slot parlors and other gambling venues. At the ballot box, millions of Americans were asked to decide: Are the benefits worth the costs?
At the same time, gambling advocates at the state and national levels are pushing for the legalization of sports betting, daily fantasy sports, and as mentioned, online gambling. This could spread government-sanctioned, legal and available gambling to every living room and dorm room in the nation.
Over the last couple years, as the commercial casino industry has begun to cannibalize itself due to its unceasing growth, the head of the American Gaming Association (AGA) has made it clear where he believes a big part of the future lies: sports betting. Now fully available only in Nevada, casino honchos want it brought to its gambling temples all over the country. In an attempt at destigmatization, Geoff Freeeman, the AGA's president, is now starting to repeatedly claim that sports betting is America's "new national pastime."
Industry officials and their political allies assert that gambling is an effective way to raise revenue and create jobs. But in High Stakes – re-released as a paperback on June 16, 2015 – I show how the costs are outweighing the benefits.
I illustrate how gambling has helped turn Las Vegas into America’s most dysfunctional community, and how the upsurge of poker and Internet gambling is creating a new generation of gambling junkies. I show how the gambling industry is targeting Asian Americans – a population that, more than any other ethnic group, is likely to develop gambling problems.
And I detail how the casino industry has cornered the market on gambling research in the United States – and the risks this poses toward finding out the truth about gambling's real impacts on American society.
I tell this tale in large part through dozens of gripping individual stories – including those of politicians and researchers; gambling industry officials and anti-gambling activists; problem gambler advocates; and of course, addicted gamblers and their families.
Though High Stakes is not a memoir, I felt it was important that I also tell a small part of my personal story. Over the last decade, I have become an avid poker player. I’ve become good at the game. Yet my gambling has at times become a destructive force in my life. My hope is that my passion for the topic, both as a gambler and long-time journalist, helps to inform the book.
Thanks for your interest,
p.s. Please follow me on Twitter at: @samskolnik
"Sam Skolnik takes you into compelling territory—the nation's trillion-dollar gambling empire, the world of pathological addiction it has spawned, and its deceitful public relations spin."