Setting Betting Limits: Should You, the Casino, or the Government?

We know you love gambling, or you wouldn’t be reading this right now; and chances are, you are able to enjoy gambling for what it should be: an entertaining pastime played with bankroll that is not designated for your rent, mortgage, car payment or groceries. But, as we are all sadly aware, not everyone is so lucky, pun intended. Some people simply cannot control their gambling, and no matter how little disposable income they may have, or how much they’ve already lost in a session, they will keep on gambling until their lives are literally in shambles, often destroying their relationships, family and self-esteem in the process.

Who should be in charge of setting betting limits in casinos? It’s a controversial topic.  (Image source: Max Fleet)

Experts say that anywhere from about 0.5 to 2.3% of the human population has a tendency towards true compulsive – i.e., unstoppable – gambling patterns, varying based on country, and even types of gambling most often engaged in (video poker machines and sports betting seem to draw – or create – the most pathological gamblers overall). Some cultures seem to exhibit greater tendencies to excessive or even addictive gambling; for example, some indigenous cultures, as well as Australians, who were recently found to be the gamblingest people on Earth, according to a “Sindex” study that measures which countries have the most prolific vices. Brits also seem to have a bit more trouble controlling their sports betting in particular based on news reports and studies.

But regardless of who may have more proclivity to out-of-control gambling behaviors, or what may potentially spur them, the question we all must wrestle with is, whose responsibility is it really to keep compulsive gamblers from doing too much harm: to themselves, their families and society at large? And is it even possible to save someone from themselves if they are hell-bent on the short-term rush that will ultimately cause them so much destruction? In short, who should be setting betting limits for these people, if anyone even can?

Not everyone can control their gambling behavior, even when it becomes destructive. But who should be controlling these players? (Image source: AP)

There are some creative ideas that have been developed and are beginning to be tried in some areas; for example, New Zealand is now experimenting with “pre-commitment” cards that gamblers can essentially set with a “cut-off” amount before they even begin. In Britain, slot machines have what would be considered quite low betting caps by an American audience, and that is government-mandated. In the U.S. – as in most Western countries – gamblers can “self-exclude” from casinos, including online ones, if they really feel that even beginning to bet will inevitably lead to disaster.

We all know that expecting addicts to self-moderate – or even pre-control – their behavior is probably not extremely realistic in most cases. If you’ve ever known an addict, or even if you are a recovering one, you know that if hellbent on destruction, there isn’t much anyone can do to stop you. They can make it a little more difficult, by putting some roadblocks in your path, but if you are determined, you will find ways around just about anything, which is why we see so many seemingly insane stories about otherwise “normal” people who embezzle hundreds of thousands, sometimes even millions of dollars, to fund the bottomless pit of their gambling addictions.

Sadly, poor choices often lead gamblers right to prison, as enacted in this 1915 movie called “Jeanne Doré”, with famed actress Sarah Bernhardt

Obviously, embezzling – particularly when massive amounts are involved – is not an easy thing to do, nor does anything in our systems condone it. Anyone who is sane must know that they will eventually be caught, and that when they are, the punishments will be harsh, and their own and most likely many others’ lives destroyed by their actions. Yet, they do not stop.

Is there a safeguard to stop this from happening? Obviously not; at least not anymore than already exist which these embezzlers have found insidious ways to get around. Which leads us to the next logical question: does it really make sense to try to save people from themselves? Should it really be the government’s – or even a casino’s – job to tell you when to stop, when enough is enough, and when it’s time for you to go home?

Let’s be honest: a lot of what is so attractive about gambling is, in a sense, its innate extremeness. Because while none of us like to lose, leaving a casino or cashing out online with 100s or even 1000s of dollars – or more if you win a huge progressive or bad beat jackpot – is a thrill like no other, and it’s one of the reasons many of us play, or buy lottery tickets, or bet on crazy odds at a sports book.

We therefore suggest that this is a somewhat futile task, trying to modulate individual behaviors. Because whether or not that individual is able to control themselves, letting the government or a casino do it for you is a step onto a slippery slope indeed. When it comes to betting limits, most people will be self-regulating, and those who are not are most likely not going to be deterred by a pre-commitment card or a wagering cap.

Do you agree? Or do you see things from a different angle? Let us know in our comments section, we’d love to hear a variety of viewpoints on this subject.