Of all the things I’ve done in my life, this might be the scariest.
That’s saying something coming from someone who has documented the worst days, months and years of my life for all to listen to at any moment they choose.
The fear comes from my awareness of the firestorm and attention this post could receive. It’s very possible—and quite likely—that it will alienate many people. I hope they will hear me out, but I also understand if they simply cannot.
I Support Legalizing All Forms of Gambling*
Yes, despite gambling destroying my life, creating a mountain of debt I’m still paying off, and bringing me to such a dark place that suicide was one of the doors I saw as a path out, I think we should legalize all forms of gambling in all ways (in-person & online)*.
Please note the GIANT asterisk at the end of the statement. I’ll come back to that at the end, but here are four primary reasons for my change of heart.
NOTE: There are many others, but I’ll keep this short.
Reason #1: Prohibition Doesn’t Work
I do not believe prohibition works. The more we try to restrict something, the more people crave it and go to great lengths to obtain it.
Reason #2: It’s Already Happened
The toothpaste truly is already out of the tube. I haven’t looked, but I trust the people I know who follow gambling and those I meet that are trying to quit when they tell me that it’s so easy to gamble online already. Playing poker online wasn’t legal when I was doing it in the early and mid-2000s, but that didn’t stop me.
There’s no turning “off” gambling. It’s been with us since day one and will be here for as long as we live.
Reason #3: Consumer Protection
As outlined above, people are already gambling but the sites they are using are unregulated and lack the consumer protection of a regulated operator. Say what you want about Responsible Gambling campaigns (they need a ton of work), but at least there is some consumer protection.
And consumer protection isn’t simply about making sure a bet gets paid out. Properly designed legislation and regulation can increase our ability to identify and intervene with gamblers showing signs of a problem.
Reason #4: Funding
Of all the reasons, this is the one that has swayed me the most. Too often, the answer to questions around problem gambling and gambling harm is “we don’t know”.
I believe our lack of understanding is a direct result of a lack of funding for research. We lack the funds to be curious about the addiction and therefore we are forced to make extremely important decisions with incomplete knowledge of how gambling impacts society.
If legalizing gambling does nothing else, I would hope that it allows us to finally conduct studies and track impact so we can make better decisions in the future.
But that alone is not enough for me to support legalizing gambling.
I support legalizing all forms of gambling so long as we do so in a way that fully and completely addresses building the infrastructure for addressing problem gambling and gambling harm.
Let’s be real. There is going to be a massive windfall of cash. It’s a HUGE pie.
But with that huge revenue stream comes an equally huge responsibility to do things the right way and that means funding research, tracking studies, awareness campaigns, educational initiatives, and treatment facilities.
By no means is this a complete list, but it should be the minimum requirement for any state and is the minimum requirement for my support.
Legalization must raise the bar when it comes to addressing problem gambling and gambling harm and the items listed above can go a long way if properly implemented from the start.
And if by chance we look back in 10 years and find that we have OVER-FUNDED problem gambling, those funds can easily be directed to other initiatives.
But let’s be safe, not sorry.
In my heart, I know that making gambling more accessible will make it even easier for the Jamie of tomorrow to fall into the same harm I did.
However, we have so much that needs to be done and I see no other way to fund the progress desperately needed other than by legalizing gambling and using a portion of the proceeds.
We aren’t protecting everyone today and we won’t protect everyone in the future. But by building up conducting research, increasing public awareness, and deploying a much improved “safety net”, it’s my hope that we can reduce the rates of problem gambling and gambling harm.
That’s always been my goal and I will explore every option with endless curiosity.
Whether you agree with me or not, I hope you will join me in the pursuit.