If you live, work and play in America, you gamble. There’s no way to avoid it.
You may not be pushing buttons on a lights-flashing, bells-clanging slot machine, or placing a bet on your Kentucky Derby choice, but you gamble.
For example, ever drive on a narrow, two-lane rural road, like the ones that criss-cross North County? If so, you are gambling that the driver of the car coming toward you is paying attention, not playing with a cell phone, or drunk. If you visit the beach and body-surf some fair-sized breakers, you are gambling.
But we’re not talking about those everyday risks we all take. We’re talking about the kind of gambling associated with casinos, sports-betting parlors and the neighborhood bookie.
All gamblers and forms of gambling are not the same. Lots of regular folks stop at the convenience store and buy a lottery ticket when the big prize is bigger than big. You might join friends for a quick trip to your local casino, drop a few bucks and every now and then go home a winner.
Gambling is a huge problem for about 3 percent of the adult population, in large part because according to Mayo Clinic research, gambling can and often does stimulate the human brain’s reward system, about the same as drugs and alcohol. There’s even a clinical name for it — “gambling disorder” — and it’s costing Americans more than $100 billion a year of their mostly hard-earned dollars.
Men are more than four times worse than women when it comes to amassing gambling debt, an IOU that the average gambler cannot pay back. Like serious drug addiction, stuck gamblers usually suffer from health problems and anxiety. They lose their jobs and their personal relationships. Some turn to crime to pay off the debt.
The personal finance website WalletHub crunched the numbers, coming up with an obvious conclusion — the single place with the highest concentration of gambling-addicted men and women is Nevada, whose casino action attracts gamblers and wanna-bes from just about every nation.
California ranks more or less in the middle of the pack, despite the presence of casinos in all major cities and on many Native American reservations.
This state is 26th in casinos per capita, 29th in gaming machines per capita and 28th in lottery sales per capita. When it comes to percentage of gambling addicts, California ranks 32nd overall.
Perhaps California’s staggeringly high cost of living helps control people’s urge to make the big bet. Maybe it’s because we live in a veritable paradise and there’s just so much to see and do in the great outdoors. Maybe Californians are smarter than people in other parts of the country. Many of us sure think that’s so.
We bring all this up because gambling will continue to grow as an industry, and because there is a large casino in our midst. It’s an industry that provides many benefits to our communities, but it comes with considerable baggage, not the least of which its reputation as a tawdry business. The industry is slowly but surely changing that perception.
Besides, one of our favorite TV shows is interior designer David Bromstad’s “My Lottery Dream Home” on HGTV. It’s much less angst-causing than, say, “Game of Thrones.”
Dreaming is a good thing, and watching regular Americans enjoy their incredible good fortune in the lottery gamble is somehow reassuring.
When we hit the PowerBall, we’re thinking a seaside chalet up toward Carmel. But we’re not going to bet on it.