Gambling regulation has always been considered the province of state and local government. Historically, gambling has been frowned upon and generally prohibited. Nevada, of course, has been the exception. Over the last 25 years, however, many states have liberalized their rules on gambling. In the 1970s, Atlantic City, N.J., legalized gambling, and state lotteries became popular. More recently, a patchwork of states has allowed “river‐boat” gambling. The public has responded in droves.
Over the same period, Indian tribes began to operate casinos on their reservations. Because the reservations are governed pursuant to treaties with the federal government, state gambling laws do not apply. Indian casinos have thrived and have had to expand to meet consumer demand. That has created pressure on state lawmakers to open the casino business to everyone — not just the Indians. In short, there is probably more gambling in the United States today than ever before.
Social conservatives have viewed the liberalization trend with alarm and would like to see a government crackdown. Dr. James Dobson, founder and president of Focus on the Family, has argued that legalized gambling leads to addiction, bankruptcy, family breakdown and homelessness. Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, maintains that “alcoholism, theft, organized crime, suicide, divorce and unemployment follow gambling wherever it appears.” Powerful groups of social conservatives have joined with the National Council of Churches to open a fully staffed lobbying operation in Washington to fight against the “scourge” of legalized gambling.