Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value on the outcome of a game or contest or uncertain event with awareness of the risk and in the hope of gain. It varies from lottery tickets and the betting of small sums of money by people who have little, to the sophisticated casino gambling of the wealthy, either for profit (if they are skilful) or as a pastime. Whether legal or not, gambling is not usually regarded as socially admirable. It can impoverish families or keep families impoverished; it may lead to blackmail and is often controlled by organized crime. Where there is gambling, there is usually also cheating (if only for a casino to recover or stave-off losses to a skilful gambler) and there may also be bribery (in sports), or doping or even sabotage to ensure winning a bet. This may lead to violent recrimination, even murder and vendetta. Extensive gambling concerns may involve the corruption of public officials.
Gambling has existed in every known society from the most primitive to the most complex. Dice games and guessing games are recorded in Stone Age cultures, among Bushmen of South Africa, Australian aborigines and American Indians. Dice dating from 3000 BC were found in an Egyptian tomb; a gaming board is cut into a step to the Acropolis in Athens; and there is abundant evidence of gambling in the decadent era of the Roman Empire. Gambling fashions change with the times and odds are that new forms will continue to occupy generations to come.
Gambling is common in virtually all societies. Petty gambling in the sense of lotteries, bookmaking on horse racing and other sports and on political elections is widespread. In the USA 80% to 90% of respondents state that they have some experience with gambling. Some 20 million French people play the lottery at least once a year. Casino gambling and slot machines may be less acceptable and may be legal or not, according to the laws of individual countries. In one year the French gamble Ffr 48 billion in Lotto, PMU, horse racing and casinos. In 1991, gambling in the European Community was the twelfth largest industry - bigger than, for instance, aviation, computers, or oil and gas, with turnover of more than 47 billion ecus. Americans wagered at least $241 billion legally and illegally in 1988, almost $1,000 was bet for every man, woman and child. UK excise duties on gambling equal £600 million annually. The Japanese government taxes legal gambling at 25% and gives the revenue to various local enterprises. In the past few years, government taxes on public gambling have totalled about one trillion yen, about $4.5 billion, annually.
The freedom to gamble openly became a potent and visible aspect of democratization in eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union in the beginning of the 1990s. Casinos, bingo and street magic boxes became a favourite pastime.
The world of gambling is a shadowy one where first, or even false, names are generally preferred. People who agree to talk to the press do not like notes to be taken of the conversation and their breathing quickens when you say you want to quote them. Given the difficulties of obtaining realistic data from some notoriously shy sources, the revenue figures are underestimated.
Gambling may be legalized or partially legalized and provide useful government revenue.