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The Economics of Casino Gambling

Casino gaming has been a growth industry in the United States over the past three decades. The number of states permitting some form of casino gaming climbed from only one as recently as 1978 to approximately 27 by the end of the 1990s, and casinos could be found in destination resorts, in former mining towns, on riverboats, in urban or suburban settings, and on Indian reserves. In 1970, when casinos were legal only in Nevada, gross gaming revenues—the net amount of money won by casinos from all customers—was $540 million; in 1997, it had grown to more than $25 billion (Christiansen, 1998). The economic success of casino gaming has been reflected in the rapid growth of Nevada, which was among the three fastest growing states in the United States for each of the last four decades of the 20th century.


The Economics of Casino Gambling

Nevada’s major city, Las Vegas, was one of the five fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country in each decade over the same period. This recent expansion of casino gambling and commercial gaming is striking, and is illustrated in Table 1. It reflects the growing popularity of an activity that has long been condemned or at least frowned upon as being either a waste of time and resources, or a potential cancer on the fabric of society (Goodman, 1995). However, gambling and especially casino gaming have remained controversial. In 1996, motivated by pressure from anti-gambling groups as well as more general concerns, Congress mandated the National Gambling Impact Study Commission—with members including representatives from the casino industry, gaming regulators, labor unions, and Christian groups, among others— whose charge was to investigate the social and economic implications of gambling on society.


Written by; William R. Eadington

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