Gambling backlash?

Jun 6, 2006 4:47 AM

By David Stratton

Ever hear the Las Vegas lament? It goes something like this: "Honey, all these years it wasn’t the gambling you hated — it was the losing."

Well, maybe the lament has caught up with the rest of the country. According to a new poll, although Americans are spending more money than ever on gambling, there’s been a softening in the public’s approval of gambling.

According to the Pew Research Center, while 71 percent of the public approves of state lotteries, that number is down from 78 percent approval in a 1989 survey.

Approval ratings also dropped for casino gambling (from 54 percent to 51 percent), as well as bingo and off-track horse betting.

Overall, two-thirds (67 percent) of adults said they placed a bet of some kind in the past year, down from 71 percent in 1989, but fewer than 23 percent said they enjoyed making bets, down from 34 percent in 1989.

Moreover, 70 percent of Americans said legalized gambling leads people to wager more than they can afford, compared to 62 percent with that concern in 1989.

"The negative turn in attitudes toward gambling appears to be driven by concerns that people are gambling too much rather than by any revival of the once common view that gambling is immoral," the report stated.

The softening of the public’s approval of gambling could be behind the apparent backlash toward its expansion.

"I’ve always been taught and believe hard work is the best way to get ahead in life, and I don’t think the state ought to promote or advertise gambling because it doesn’t send a good signal to our people," said North Carolina State Senator Charles W. Albertson, who has opposed the state’s new education lottery.

But, getting back to the aforementioned Las Vegas lament, are greater numbers of players disapproving of gambling or have they become tired of losing?

In an attempt to answer that question, at least in the state of Nevada, GamingToday researched the casinos’ win percentages over the past 10 years.

The casinos’ win or hold percentage measures how much of every dollar wagered a casino keeps or wins. Obviously, the figure also represents how much the player lost out of every dollar bet.

In 1995, for instance, Nevada’s casinos won 13.05 percent of all blackjack bets, but last year they won only 11.73 percent. That means blackjack players won a greater percentage of their wagers last year than they did 10 years ago.

Similarly, last year players won more at craps, roulette, baccarat, Let It Ride and Pai Gow, while they lost more playing Caribbean Stud and betting in the race and sports book.

Overall, excluding slots, players actually won 7.5 percent more last year than they did 10 years ago.

Slot machines are another matter.

In every denomination of slot machine that was offered over the study period, casinos had a higher win percentage last year than they did 10 years ago (see chart).

Those percentages would indicate slots were "tighter" last year than they were 10 years ago, thus players lost more last year than they did a decade earlier.

In addition, a new category of slot machine that was not listed 10 years ago — penny slots — last year held a whopping 9.31 percent, the highest of any denomination.

"There’s no doubt slot machines are holding more than ever," said a Las Vegas casino host. "But people don’t seem to mind. They keep coming back, year after year — the lower win rates haven’t dampened their willingness to play."

Indeed, the amount of money bet increases every year.

But the 18 percent increase in the amount that slot players have lost over the past 10 years may have contributed to an overall dissatisfaction with gambling in general.

It might even be something to lament about.