Behind the Book: Gambling for Profit

Kerry G.E. Chambers is the author of Gambling for Profit.

Why and how has gambling, which in the past has generally been regarded as sinful and deviant, increasingly became legitimized and legalized?

As I explored this question, I found a dominant political and economic explanation: many argued that politicians attempt to legalize gambling to address fiscal and economic crises, and corporations advance this process through lobbying, financing gambling facilities, and undertaking tactics to convince a wary public. Such accounts are clearly incomplete since legalization, gambling products, and participation differs regionally, but the conclusions were understandable because the studies were ahistorical, static, and typically involved one jurisdiction. This meant important sociocultural factors that intervened in the political domain were overlooked.

What was your intention in writing Gambling For Profit: Lotteries, Gaming Machines, and Casinos in Cross-National Focus?
My intention was to adjust this discourse and undertake a cross-national historical comparison, one that would incorporate diverse political-economic and sociocultural elements surrounding the legalization of gambling into an historically conditional, dynamic, and fluid framework.
Some authors maintain that gambling has no intrinsic meaning and groups use the political arena to contest it as an acceptable activity. While valid, I show in Gambling For Profit that historical junctures forge distinct political, economic, social and cultural institutional paths that influence the outcomes of such struggles. Politicians and corporations may want to introduce gambling but success relies on collective social and cultural values favourable to legalization, the power to impose legal gambling on an unwilling population, or both.

Why is legitimacy critical?
Legitimacy is critical since democratic governments require legal authority to govern and commercial gambling will fail without customers. Sociocultural dynamics involving religion, crime, and other collective experiences affect perceptions of gambling. Nonetheless, the convergence of each with political-economic features such as the type of welfare regime, state structure and resource mobilization is what leads to different outcomes in time and space.

Why can’t universal explanations for the proliferation of legal gambling be maintained?
I demonstrate this throughout Gambling For Profit by exploring legal gambling between twenty-three Western states and providing a detailed analysis of lotteries, gaming machines, and casinos in Australia, Canada and the United States. For example, Social Democratic countries have more interventionist gambling policies than Neoliberal regimes, which make sense given the difference in political cultures. Comparing the Neoliberal countries, legal gambling should have developed first within the United States given that it has the strongest liberal political orientation. Yet, conservative protestant religious and traditional values, combined with crime and corruption and the ability to influence governance through referenda, constrained the legalization of gambling in the U.S.. Conditions were most conducive in Australia and legal gambling either emerged there earlier or the activities are more predominant.

Why write Gambling For Profit now?

Writing Gambling For Profit was an ambitious task that might have been impossible before the Internet. Search engines and translation programs enabled me to gather statistics and publications otherwise unavailable or unknown, which I combined with numerous theoretical perspectives to trace the historical sociolegal development of gambling in late modernity. The result is a book that will appeal to historians, political scientists, sociologists, and others interested in the ways that historical junctures impact the political, economic, social, and cultural realms, thereby producing variations in worldviews and participation in political and social activities.