Gambling has always been one of the most widespread hobbies - but also among the most controversial. For many millions of people, it's an entertaining and exciting pastime which has the potential to lead to big winnings. For others it's a profession they earn a living from. However, there's no denying that gambling can be activity which can lead to financial issues - with gambling addiction a problem across the world.

Gambling is big business for operators both land-based and online, plus a major contributor to the US economy. In 2017 gambling revenues reached $158 billion - much of which the government can reinvest in vital public services, such as transport, schools and hospitals.

Las Vegas - still the ultimate gambling city - attracted 42 million tourists last year. Many of them would have travelled there to play their favourite casino games, but of course they also rent hotel rooms, buy food and drink - stimulating general economic activity.

The wider context of gambling

This is the bigger picture of the gambling industry. So anyone with society's best interests at heart might conclude that while gambling operators should be responsible for promoting their services in a fair way, they should also be allowed to flourish. It's a delicate balance that needs to be struck to both promote gambling and casinos while protecting those who may be the most vulnerable to addictive patterns of behaviour.

This is especially relevant in the US because the level of gambling spend - in Vegas at least - is on the rise. For example, there was a 3.3% increase in 2017 from the 2016 figure, even though visitor numbers saw a reduction of 1.7%. The city is facing greater competition from elsewhere in the world, nowhere more so than in Macau.

Ever since the Chinese government started to promote it as a world-class gambling destination it has attracted both US investment and increasing visitor numbers. In 2017 over 32 million people visited, a 5.4% increase on the previous year and clear sign that Vegas would have to up its game if it wants to continue to compete.

The magic of Vegas that continues to draw in visitors

While the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones were regular performers in Vegas back in the good old days, venues are relying more on the pulling power of global superstars to get them through their doors. Perhaps this is because they're conscious people are not purely coming to Vegas to gamble anymore.

With performers from Elton John to Celine Dion and from Donny and Marie Osmond to Britney Spears all appearing at major locations in Vegas, the city is awash with glitz and glamour. The magic of these megastars rub off on the casinos where they appear and on Sin City itself.

The latest major building project in Las Vegas hasn't been a huge casino in the style of Ancient Rome, or even the lost island of Atlantis, but an 18,000 seat entertainment stadium due to open in 2020. A joint venture between the Madison Square Garden Company and the Las Vegas Sands Corporation it's concrete evidence that diversification is a key strategy for the big casino companies.

By attracting even bigger and better spectacles to the city, it's hoped that its reputation will become even more starry and appealing. This again raises a need for gambling operators to be regulated.

Sports betting is on its way

By some measures, online gaming is even more of a success story than land-based casinos. The industry is pushing a $60bn valuation. Players have been heading online in their droves, with operators providing increasingly more engaging and immersive games that can be played from the comfort of their homes.

Online gambling and sports betting is increasingly on the US's radar. This comes in the wake of the ruling in summer 2018 by the Supreme Court that sports betting should become legal in the US. This followed on from concerted pressure from New Jersey to overturn the ban established by 1992's Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

All of the major leagues opposed the motion believing that allowing betting will damage the integrity of their sports, but their objections were over-ruled. Find out more about the reaction to this landmark moment for gambling by checking out this insightful post about US sports betting

  •  Having to verify a user's age before they are allowed to gamble
  •  Verifying a user's sources of wealth - to prevent money laundering
  •  Enforcing responsible gambling measures such as allowing gamers to set a time limit on how long they want to gamble, or enabling them to set 'rest periods'
  • The Gambling Commission isn't afraid to fine or shut down organisations that breach these strict rules and regulations.

    Now well established in the UK, online gambling and sports betting are proving that, with the right regulatory framework, they can be practised safely and responsibly and surely this is a model that the US will be able to follow too. The US could easily set up a similar regulatory body to the Gambling Commission if it were to permit online gambling on a wider scale.

    It's not just in the UK that online gambling has become popular and successful. In countries ranging from Australia to Ghana, it's been embraced wholeheartedly and with the right level of regulation, supports responsible gambling too.


    While sports leagues might argue that online gambling is not in the interests of the US, the Treasury might disagree - as would the huge numbers of Americans who gamble on the black market. A report prepared by Oxford University in 2017 estimated that legal sport gaming could add up to $14.2 billion to the country's GDP and create up to 152,000 new jobs. So in sheer financial terms a legalised online gambling industry would boost the national economy.

    It will also give the government the ability to apply that other great method of control - taxes - to the activity which can then be raised if they want to discourage gambling at any point.

    However, a potential obstacle is the fact that land-based casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson is one of President Trump's biggest donors. Adelson is viciously opposed to online gambling, and for that reason, it's not really in Trump's interests to push it forward. Plus, he'll soon be back on the campaign trail for the 2020 Presidential Election - so might have other priorities.

    The issue will continue to rumble on in the meantime. With so many other countries in the world striking the optimum balance of economic freedom and regulation, it's surely game on for the US.