There are two overarching reasons to support legalised gambling: liberty and economics. Given the intensive regulation of the gambling industry, it is clear that the state has fulfilled its duty of care as far as is possible without criminalisation – and thus means that any case for further regulation is an argument about the merits of criminalisation vs those of legalisation in the status quo.
In a tolerant, liberal society, we must be free to practice activities so long as they do not have a negative impact on others’ wellbeing. Gambling is an activity which is enjoyed as a pastime by many – whether that be in a casino, with some friends at home, or on an online casino from the comfort of their living room – and thus should not be inhibited in a liberal society, in whatever form it should take. A person’s money is theirs to distribute in the manner that they see fit – they work for it, and they pay tax on a portion of it with the understanding that the remainder can be spent as they desire – and thus there can be no case for criminalisation on the basis that people may lose money by gambling.
Additionally, the risks from gambling are always understood by the gambler, and one might argue that indisputably legal activities, such as investing in a business, have an equal risk attached. There is as much skill in, for example, a game of poker as there is in investing in the stock market – and those games with a higher element of luck are often the ones most sought out by people who enjoy seeking the thrill of a risk, and there are certainly far worse ways to enjoy taking a risk than a game of roulette.
Online gambling has enhanced the experience, and has granted increased choice of games to consumers. More choice means more opportunities for relaxation and enjoyment, which can only be a good thing. Whereas gamblers previously had to seek out different games, the advent of online gambling means that people can enjoy a wide range of activities with just a few clicks of the mouse – roulette, poker, blackjack, even horse-racing, can be accessed from the comfort of your front room.
The alternative to legal gambling seems to violate several key aspects of a liberal society: the freedom to choose how to spend your time, so long as it does not adversely affect others; the freedom to spend your money in the way that you desire; and, importantly, the freedom of the market to respond to a demand for a service by providing it. The latter point is important, because in criminalising gambling, one would take away the rights of companies already offering such services to trade, and prohibit future innovations in the industry from taking off (at least in the UK). A serious censorship of the internet would also be required to prevent those consumers who wish to gamble from being able to visit sites hosted in a foreign country.
The economic benefits of gambling are not to be ignored either, when making a decision on whether we should be endorsing either legalising or criminalising it.
People who enjoy gambling will always want to do so, and so in taking away their ability to spend that money, you will automatically reduce consumption within the economy and thus reduce GDP. Equally, by banning the gambling industry, one removes a source of employment, investment, and spending within local areas. Casinos are often surrounded by cafés, hotels and shops, and thus can revitalise the local economy – removing the gambling industry would severely impede the local economy, for no good reason.
Innovative new games and gambling in general will always exist. If we want to live in a prosperous, free market society where entrepreneurs and innovators are able to respond to demand with supply, then the gambling industry should be left as it is. Likewise, if we want to live in a free, tolerant, liberal society, then we should leave our citizens to freely enjoy themselves and spend their money, and allow them to make the decision as to whether or not they want to engage in gambling. There is, then, no place for criminalising gambling in a liberal society.