My city of London, Ontario is in the midst of a gambling debate, with some feeling our collective future could be at risk should a larger casino be built near the centre of town.  That’s likely a little dramatic since a slots casino has been with us for years.

But the world itself has changed and key to it all is the difference in attitudes towards gambling inter-generationally.  Regardless of whether the casino is approved, attitudes regarding its presence in our midst are already going through a substantial shift.

New research is telling us something important about how gambling is being perceived.  Here’s just a sample of what’s been discovered:

  • While gambling remains popular with older generations, Millennials (1980-2000) take a far dimmer view of the practice, with only half of the numbers the older generations support.
  • The Millennial generation has now grown larger than the Boomers and are about to promote their values on everything, including the practice of gambling and gaming.
  • Millennials value drinking activities far more than Boomers.
  • 44% of Millennials play the slots, while 72% of all the other age groups participate.
  • More Millennials say they would play the slots if there was more of a challenge as opposed to random chance.
  • Millennials like the amenities of drinking, entertainment and dancing that most often accompany casinos, but not the practice of gambling itself.

Las Vegas understands this last point well enough, with one gambling consultant noting that, “A new breed of visitor is showing up in Vegas … to enjoy the good rooms, food, and shows, but – and this is where it hurts – not to gamble.”  They are more interested in their tech gadgetry than the slots.  This explains why, as the dying off of older gamblers is having its effects at the tables and slots, the overall number of visitors to the resort hasn’t declined.

It’s intriguing to note that the above paragraph was from a news item written in Life magazine in 1955.   In other words, there was a time when Baby Boomers themselves shied away from gambling while enjoying the entertainment that went along with it. The “gadgetry” that so much fascinated them were their transistor radios, televisions and more portable cameras.

Does this mean that the Millennials will follow in the path of their predecessors that they complain about?  Possibly.  The number of Millennials frequenting institutions of gambling is steadily creeping up as they get older – just like the Boomers.  In another interesting irony, research is also revealing that the generations following the Millennials continually blame them for much of their lack of economic opportunity.  What goes around, comes around.

Why is gambling a divisive issue?  There are numerous responses to the question, but the most serious concerns addictions and poverty.  As Ross Simpson put it in last weekend’s London Free Press:

Then, there is the question of problem gambling. The rates for casino gamblers are much higher than OLG claims: 5.5 per cent of slots players are severe problem gamblers, as are 12.1 per cent of table game players. About three times more will be “moderate severity” problem gamblers.

Using London’s population and provincial gambling participation rates, the proposed casino will generate an estimated 23,307 high and moderate severity problem gamblers.  Spouses and children will add an additional 55,936 family members potentially affected by problem gamblers.

Gambling is just one of the temptations that go with an affluent society, where people either have the funds to survive the casino and the social supports to assist them in their continual losses.  People in desperately poor countries enjoy no such pleasures on a systemic scale.  Playing anything can be a delightful thing, but not when it causes the person to trade their necessities for the trite and wasteful.

There are likely lessons to be learned here – personal, professional, social and moral. With a world increasingly at odds with ethical behaviour, it is of little advantage to pursue a practice that tosses away wealth at the very moment average citizens are losing enough of it to the 1%.  “A gambler never makes the same mistake twice,” notes Terrence Murphy.  “It’s usually three or more times.”  Learning proves to be a difficult thing in such a setting and now isn’t the time to be rolling the dice on a practice we have yet to come to terms with..