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It is seen that in the Australian context, gambling is a routine pastime or occupation, and it does not bear the social stigma that is attached to gambling in other countries of the world.
More significantly, the Australian government has so far adopted a conciliatory and indulgent attitude towards most kinds of gambling, which has been the main reason for the rampant growth and proliferation of both forms of gambling, legal and illegal, in the Australian homeland.
However, the Government has now realized that compulsive gambling, especially in its new internet avatar, is quite competent in creating conditions conducive to problem gambling which entails serious economic losses in terms of diminution of job performance, family stresses, commission of financial irregularities to pay off a gambling debt, and finally ruin and bankruptcy. (McMillen & Grabosky 1998).
Internet gambling has superseded gaming machines, poker, and casino, just as these forms of gambling had overtaken horse betting, card games, and other forms of earlier gambling.
Perceived benefits of gambling
The positive aspects of gambling seem to be in terms of generating employment, incomes, and higher spending capacity for economies that depend upon gambling as a source of revenue. Besides, there seem to be intangible benefits derived indirectly by businesses that thrive on tourist gambling businesses like airlines, hotel, and alcohol industry, transportation, and several other businesses. Gambling is one of the chief attractions for the tourist trade, there is no doubt that tourist traffic would be affected in the event gambling legislation is enforced.
However, one needs to distinguish between legal gambling and illegal gambling. Legal gambling brings revenue to the government and presents several socio-economic advantages. Illegal gambling has severe attendant risks including crime, prostitution, money laundering, drug trafficking, loan sharking, and several other social evils, besides the risk of bankruptcy and suicides.
The most significant aspect would be in terms of compulsive gambling which needs to be checked and monitored closely to avoid social costs.
Evils of gambling
The social evils that impinge upon compulsive gambling far outweigh the gains and revenues derived from it, in terms of detriment and losses accruing to individuals who indulge in it, the families who face distress and deprivation, and also to the community, who is deprived of positive channelizing of incomes and wealth into socially acceptable channels. The losses of gamblers are quite severe. “On average each loses around $12,000 a year. Each one causes problems for some five to 10 other Australian adults who know or love them.” (Martin 1999).
It needs to be seen that gambling not only needs to be banned in Australia but also in other parts of the world where it ruins human lives and wrecks havoc on the community in no uncertain terms.
Moral aspects of gambling
Gambling creates moral evils in that when the gamblers do not have money to gamble, they may need to resort to mortgaging their assets to satisfy their gambling passions. They may also borrow money at exorbitant rates of interest and have to bear the consequences of their misdeeds. The moral aspects of gambling would be in terms of broken homes, high rates of divorces, poverty, unemployment and also depression, bankruptcy, and suicides. Gamblers have poor employment records and most firms would not like to employ persons addicted to gambling.
Various connotations of gambling
In the religious context, it could be seen that gambling is more of an individual right, like freedom of speech or movement. Thus, it would not be correct to ban the choice of one’s pastime, or recreation, except when it transgresses laws. In the Australian context, it is seen that except for online gambling which falls within the ambit of “Section 51(v) of the Australian Constitution”, other forms of gambling are outside the jurisdiction of the Australian Commonwealth, and “The regulation of offline gambling, therefore, remains primarily a State and Territory responsibility.” (Online gambling- frequently asked questions 2009).
Thus, it is well within the powers of various Australian states to enforce laws and legislations according to their conventions. There are no uniform laws applicable for all states and consistency is not always maintained. It follows that laws banning certain forms of gambling in one state may be allowed in another; so all that the gamblers need to do is to conduct gambling activities from states that permit them.
It is seen that illegal gambling is a major industry in Australia, and flouts most of the applicable rules, including taxation and movement of currency. While the Australian government has jurisdiction over internet gambling, (whether this is exercised or not is a different matter) the Federal authorities do not involve themselves in offline gambling, which is a major den of crime. Often, political and law enforcement departments are major beneficiaries of gambling criminal nexus and would thwart designs of enforcing legal machinery.
The impact of large-scale gambling, especially compulsive gambling is enormous. The socio-economic impacts of problem gambling, during which the gambler is not able to control his gambling propensities are very much like drug intake, or alcohol misuse, which has different manifestations at each stage, including the introductory stages, mid-stages, withdrawal, relapse, and issues arising out of non-participation in compulsive gambling that could provoke and exacerbate psychotic disorders, including violent behavior, harm to self and others, suicidal tendencies and other manifestations of uncontrolled behavior.
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There are several reasons why gambling in any form needs to be strictly checked, if not banned, in most countries of the world. One of the principal reasons is that not being strictly illegal, it is often criminalized without the perpetrators being punished for their misdemeanors. Again, the aspect of legality or illegality of gambling, compulsive or casual, harmful or otherwise, is a subject matter of individual assessment of Courts and judicial precedents. Thus, they may not be enforced consistently.
Australia has only recently awakened to the risk behaviors associated with gambling with the introduction of the Interactive Gaming Act 2001. Again, many offline gambling activities are allowed under this act, when even counties like the USA have categorically banned online gambling. It is necessary that robust law be enacted that could address gambling as a Federal subject and not a state issue, demarcate the legality of such gambling activities, and also delineate the extent and scope within which Australian citizens could be made responsible for gambling as compared to non-Australians who may not be held guilty under Australian laws.
While revenue generation and tourist traffic earnings are major considerations for the exchequer, which may be major sources of sustenance for countries, it should not form the framework within which legal norms could be transgressed with impunity by a small, albeit influential part of the gambling and gambling-aiding community.
Thus, it is necessary to consider the efficacy of a total ban on major harmful effects caused types of gambling, very much in the lines of the United States that has banned online gambling. Strong and decisive action must be taken to lessen the evil effects and social detriments, caused by laxity in the enforcement of regulations and a more laissez-faire approach to the entire gamut of gambling.
Martin, P 1999, Pros and cons of gambling, The World Today.
McMillen, J & Grabosky, P 1998, No.88: internet gambling, Australian Institute of Criminology. Web.
Online gambling- frequently asked questions: isn’t gambling a state and territory responsibility 2009, Australian Government: Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Web.