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Gambling: Survey shows growing concerns and conflicting beliefs

When it comes to gambling, Americans are a conflicted people. They participate in large numbers, but many say they don't enjoy it. They recognize gambling's negative social consequences, but they don't think it's morally wrong or should be illegal. By a large majority, they believe that legalized gambling leads to bad stewardship of money, and then they prove the point by losing more than they win.

Those are the findings of a report last month from the Pew Research Center titled Gambling: As the Take Rises, So Does Public Concern. The biggest news from the survey is that 70 percent of Americans now say that "legalized gambling encourages people to gamble more than they can afford." That's up from 1989, when a Gallup poll found that 62 percent of respondents affirmed such a statement. Pew also found that slightly fewer Americans (67 percent) are active gamblers-meaning they've gambled at least once in the previous year-than in 1989 (71 percent).

But even with this growing concern about gambling's impact, most Americans flinch from calling gambling immoral or from trying to do anything about it. Sixty-five percent of Americans said gambling is not morally wrong (the same percentage as in a 1990 survey), and majorities favored states raising money from almost all forms of gambling except betting on professional sports.

The Pew report quotes commentator Jonathan Last: "Over the past 50 years gambling has gone from sin to vice to guilty pleasure and has come, finally, to be simply another point of interest on the entertainment map." Not even a growing awareness of gambling's social cost has been able to stop this evolution.

One fascinating result from the survey is that 52 percent of Americans said they don't enjoy gambling at all. (Another 24 percent said they don't enjoy it much.) Since only 33 percent of Americans don't gamble, that means 19 percent of Americans gamble even though it isn't fun for them.

Combine that with Pew's finding that only 30 percent of American gamblers say they come out ahead monetarily, and it turns out that a sizable chunk of the population gambles even though gambling probably wastes their money and doesn't entertain them.

When a person continues to do something that loses him money, hurts society, and gives him no real enjoyment, does that qualify as an addiction?

Balance Sheet

PRICES: Inflation is continuing to march at a stepped-up pace, with the Labor Department reporting that consumer prices rose 0.4 percent in May. "Core" consumer prices-or prices excluding energy and food-rose by 0.3 percent, a faster rate than analysts had expected. The numbers increased speculation that the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates for the 17th straight time at its next meeting, scheduled for June 28-29.

STOCKS: The prospect of higher inflation and tighter credit hammered Wall Street, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average in recent weeks gave back all of its gains for the year. The selloff began in May, intensified with a 199-point drop on June 5 after inflation comments from Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, and continued as inflation news increased the likelihood that the Fed would raise rates again.

BUDGET: The federal budget deficit widened in May, to $42.8 billion. But Treasury officials also said that an increase in federal revenue might make the overall annual deficit $125 billion less than government forecasts had predicted. "There were timing issues on the spending side that had a big impact this month," economist Mike Englund told the Bloomberg news service. He said it would be "almost impossible" for the deficit to remain at its May level.