In this article, the authors consider the social, structural and symbolic effects of the recent and rapid spread of legal gambling in the United States. They contend that problem gambling is not randomly distributed throughout the population and that the high incidence of problem gambling among racial and ethnic minorities cannot be fully understood without taking into account the social consequences of historical wealth inequality and contemporary credit inequality.
Sociologists have frequently associated gambling behavior with the gambler's position in the social structure, as well as connected particular types of gambling with the norms and values dominant in the communities in which they occur. The authors argue that disproportionate blame is placed on ethno-racial minorities and the poor because, unlike the wealthier classes, they are more likely to end up in a serious financial crisis as a result of their gambling addiction and therefore more likely to be seen as the “problem.”
States increasingly look to gambling to make up revenues lost from reducing the tax burden on property owners, deregulating lending policies and relaxing consumer credit restrictions. As gambling has become more legitimized, moral opposition to the activity has had to be modified, so that gambling is now seen as more of a biomedical issue. Through this article, the authors hope to engage others into researching the dimensions of gambling and to understanding problem gambling as a social phenomenon.