We’ve all seen those memorable movie scenes where a downtrodden guy places a longshot sports bet only to be floored when his underdog team pulls ahead, or the newbie card player who cleans up in a high-stakes game of blackjack. And then there’s the neighborhood grocery clerk who hits it big with a winning lottery ticket. Who isn’t inspired by those kinds of stories?
Poker, sports betting and playing the lottery are all forms of gambling – games of chance that offer a rush of excitement from risking your hard-earned money against the potential reward of raking in big winnings. But the real-life economics of gambling is much more complicated than what Hollywood often portrays.
“The most interesting thing, I think, is how government treats different types of gambling differently,” says Professor Douglas M. Walker. “In South Carolina, for example, we’re fine with having a lottery, but there are no casinos of any type.”
Walker, an expert in the economic and social impacts of legalized gambling, recently weighed in on a WalletHub article evaluating 2016’s Most Gambling Addicted States. Not surprisingly, Nevada came in as the most gambling addicted state. South Carolina, which doesn’t have legalized casinos, ranked 18th, though the Palmetto State does allow cities to host gambling aboard riverboat cruises (but no gambling can occur while the boats are in port).
An economics professor at the College of Charleston’s School of Business, Walker has spent the last two decades researching legalized gambling. He has published more than 50 articles and book chapters on the subject. He’s also written two books on the topic, the most recent of which, Casinonomics: The Socioeconomic Impacts of the Casino Industry, was published in 2013.
Tackling tough topics like whether sports betting should be legal in all 50 states, the value of state lotteries and if daily fantasy sports should be regulated, Walker recently offered the financial website a diverse array of perspectives evaluating the pros and cons of each issue. For him, what it comes down to is a question of the fiscal impacts of legalized gambling, both in terms of taxes and job creation – and whether making certain types of gambling illegal, such as sports betting, really does anything to stop it from occurring.
“To what extent should government try to prevent people from spending their money the way they want to?” he asks.
An even bigger question in a state like South Carolina, where there exists a lottery but also a ban on casinos, is what are the costs and benefits of such policy choices?
And the list goes on, Walker says. “There’s a lot to look at.”