Gambling Is Probably Part of Our DNA

Did you see the news article about a casino in Utah? Yep, there was a casino in Utah, but it was a long time ago before Joseph Smith or any European had been to this continent. Yep, nearly 1000 years ago, there were casinos in Utah.

It could be one of America’s first ‘casinos’, established long before the bright lights of Las Vegas appeared. A cave on the shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake has been found to hold hundreds of dice and other ancient gambling pieces. And archaeologists who discovered the carved sticks, hoops, dice and darts – which date from the 13th century – believe there could be up to 10,000 more of the gaming pieces in the cave… Professor Jack Ives, an archaeologist at the University of Alberta, said the number and diversity of gaming artifacts found in the cave was unparalleled in western North America. Richard Gray, London Daily Mail, 6-1-15

The discovery startled many people, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Gambling has always been pervasive in human societies. The latest study on the subject that I read, stated that 80 percent of Americans have a propensity to make a wager. They bet on horses, sports, elections, church bingo, poker, slot machines, blackjack tables, office pools and the lottery. But like some other natural and popular activities, gambling has its enemies. Many times, governments and organized religions have defined it as criminal or immoral. The efforts to suppress gambling have enjoyed considerable success. In fact, we are emerging from a long period when almost all forms of gambling were illegal. But slowly over the last 80 years that has changed and a variety of forms of legal ‘gaming’ have emerged; horse racing, bingo, lotteries, poker, sports betting, black jack, craps, roulette and slot machines have spread to every corner of the country.

In the second decade of the 21st century, only Utah, Alaska and Hawaii still ban all gambling. Other than those three, there are only a couple of pockets of anti-gambling sentiment left in this country. Those are based on specific games or activities, not on gambling in general. For the most part, internet gambling is illegal, except in Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada. It is being considered in other states and in Congress, but it has some well-funded opponents. Another form of gambling that is still being contended by legal and moral forces is sports-betting. It is legal only in Delaware, Oregon and Nevada. The professional and amateur sports associations have lobbied against sports wagering whenever any state attempts to legalize it. They have also tried to keep any sport or sports figure from being associated with casinos.

The NFL has barred three Miami Dolphins players from participating in a poker tournament, as the event promotes gambling….They were set to play in a tournament at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, where they were “celebrity bounties” for other tournament players. James Brady, SB Nation, 6-12-15

The National Fantasy Football Convention in Las Vegas has been canceled due to the NFL’s policy concerning company personnel’s involvement with activities sponsored or held by casinos. Over 100 players were expected to attend the July 10-12 event at the Venetian…players could have been fined or suspended for such participation, ESPN reports.  Ashley Casper, 6-7-15

In light of the history of legalization and expansion of gaming in this country, fully legalized internet gambling and sports-betting will probably happen – eventually. It is likely to happen for one simple reason – people like to gamble. It has been so common in our history that one might argue that we are hardwired to gamble. We are hardwired to take risks; without our willingness to risk we would still be living in trees in Africa. Above the dangers, risk taking produces some very positive effects. It allows us to do new things, to colonize new places and acquire novel possessions. And, as an added advantage, evolution has made it exciting for us. Risk taking pumps adrenaline into our bloodstream, our heart rates jump and our breathing quickens.

Gambling has been pumping adrenaline in us for a very, very long time. Those early Indian casinos are evidence it is part of our nature and too much a part of our nature to be suppressed. Suppressing something that is at the core of our nature is not easy as we learned during prohibition. To some people, prohibition sounded like a good idea, a way to protect society from itself. Prohibition fit into the belief system of the temperance society, but it did not fit into the lives of most people. In general, gambling prohibitions are the same; it sounds like a good idea, a way to protect people from themselves. But that kind of control does not fit well with our nature. In the end, our nature always wins out over laws and regulations meant to control it. Taking a risk to feel that rush of adrenaline is probably coded into our DNA, so it seems to me.


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June 2015
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