Gambling: a New Social Issue?

Since the beginning of the XXI century gambling has experienced a kind of renaissance. After the time of the great gamblers who played in the legendary and exclusive casinos, gambling has become a popular pastime among retirees, employees, workers, or the unemployed. The fun revival is the direct consequence of the trivialization of gambling and its acceptance as a form of entertainment. To better understand the global nature of the phenomenon, it is important to understand the role of the media and how they have generated great interest in gambling. Poker is an excellent example of the current craze, since its appearance on American television, products (boxes, guides, DVDs), and of course online. Thanks to technology, the number of games is constantly developing and players are no longer dependent on time or space.

At the same time, the debate on the harmful consequences of gambling continues. In 1980, pathological gambling was introduced into the DSM III of the American Psychiatric Association and was classified as “impulse control disorder”. Later, in 1994, pathological gambling was defined as “an unsuitable, persistent, and repeated practice of gambling”. Despite this, opinions remain divided when it comes to defining pathological gambling as an addiction. Depending on the research areas and linguistic contexts, the various definitions allude to excess, compulsion, and dependence, among others.

Today, the problems associated with gambling are starting to be better known. Gambling addiction has become a phenomenon whose repercussions on society and public health are recognized. The EU Member States each has national legislation that regulates the supply and fun of games. Gaming operators are taxed by states, which then distribute resources to ministerial or organizational beneficiaries. Online gambling is seen as a potential new source of financial profit, but the Internet is a specific environment that can increase the risk of gambling addiction. The development of responsible gambling is a way of intervening and preventing the development of the addiction in question.

The Political and Regulatory Challenge of Gambling in Europe

European citizens can currently participate in gambling games offered nationally, transnationally (as in Euromillions in several European countries or in the Viking Lotto in Scandinavia and Estonia) and internationally online. The operation of gambling has become global, but the status of gambling depends on their national regulation. So far each EU member state has been able to decide on regulation. National legislation defines the types and rules of authorized gambling, the status of national and foreign operators, the location of gambling in public and specific places or online and the characteristics of games and machines. On the other hand, the age limit is defined by national legislation, but operators may also change it. The taxation of operators and the distribution of resources from gambling also depend on national legislation.

Since the advent of online gambling and more precisely since the intensification of competition on the global gaming market, several countries have decided to check their gambling policy and operating system. For example, France has decided to “control the opening of the online gambling market”. In Belgium, a bill aims to control the negative consequences of online gambling by liberalizing it. In Sweden, online poker was introduced in 2006 by Svenska Spel, the state operator of gambling.

The regulation of the offer and the age limit for gambling has undergone several changes in recent years. Among others in Spain, the expansion of gambling continues, despite government measures taken in the 1990s to reduce the number of slot machines. 2007 was a decisive year in Norway: all slot machines were banned and withdrawn from the market. The age limit has been increased to 18 years. Until now, a 15-year-old Finnish teenager could play slot machines in public places (such as supermarkets and kiosks) and a younger teenager under the supervision of a family member. In the near future, gambling will only be available to adults in Finland.