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Acceptance of Gambling Reaches New Heights

Acceptance of Gambling Reaches New Heights

by Jim Norman
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 69% of Americans say gambling is morally acceptable
  • Up from 65% last year, trend low of 58% in 2009
  • Views differ significantly by education, income, religiosity

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sixty-nine percent of Americans say gambling is morally acceptable, a four-percentage-point increase from last year and the highest level of acceptance in the 16 years Gallup has asked the question.

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning sports betting on May 14, only a few days after the May 1-10 poll was completed. The law was challenged by the state of New Jersey, which has been battling for years to legalize sports betting at its casinos and racetracks. More than 20 states are now considering legalizing some form of sports betting.

Line graph: Americans' views on moral acceptability of gambling. Record-high 69% (2018) say it's acceptable; low of 58% said this in 2009.

Previously, the highest percentage of Americans saying gambling is morally acceptable was 67%, in both 2015 and 2016. The lowest level of acceptance on the question -- one of a battery of questions about social issues included in Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs Social Series since 2003 -- was 58% in 2009.

Americans' increasing willingness to see gambling as an acceptable behavior fits into a larger pattern of Americans becoming more liberal on social issues. Both on specific social issues, such as same-sex marriage and pornography, and on general attitudes about social issues, the nation has gradually moved leftward in recent years.

Acceptance of Gambling More Broad-Based Now, but Not New

The growth in the percentage of Americans saying gambling is acceptable has been nowhere near as large as for some other prominent social issues on which attitudes have changed by 20 points or more. Gay and lesbian relations, legalization of marijuana and babies being born outside of marriage all were morally unacceptable to half or more of Americans at some point since 2000 but now have solid majority support. On the issue of gambling, majorities have said it was acceptable every time the current version of the question was asked since 2003 and in earlier versions of the question asked in 1992 and 1993.

Americans have not always been so supportive on gambling issues, however. In the earliest years of The Gallup Poll, Americans were split when asked in 1938 if "government lotteries would produce an unwholesome gambling spirit in this country." Fifty-one percent thought it would, and 49% thought it would not. During the 1940s, support for the concept of using lotteries to fund government services ranged between 45% and 54%.


Views on Gambling Differ by Religiosity, Education, Income

Combining polling results from the past three years makes it possible to look at how Americans differ on the moral acceptability of gambling by religion, race, ethnicity, education, income and other key subgroupings. Results from the three polls show that Americans differ most strongly by religiosity, with only 48% of those who attend religious services at least weekly saying gambling is acceptable, compared with 63% of those attending nearly weekly or monthly, and 78% who attend seldom or not at all. Many of the nation's largest religious denominations have historically been strongly opposed to gambling.

Views on Gambling Differ Significantly Within Subgroups
Morally acceptable Morally wrong
% %
Religious attendance
At least weekly 48 47
Nearly weekly/monthly 63 30
Seldom/Never 78 18
Annual household income
Less than $20,000 54 43
$20,000-$29,999 60 35
$30,000-$49,999 62 32
$50,000-$74,999 72 25
$75,000 and above 76 20
No college 60 35
Some college 68 28
College degree, no postgrad 74 23
Postgraduate work/degree 76 17
Non-Hispanic white 70 26
Non-Hispanic black 62 34
Hispanic 57 35
East 68 29
Midwest 73 23
South 60 33
West 71 25
Aggregated results from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs polls in 2016, 2017 and 2018

Income and education differences also are related to views on gambling. The higher the income status and the higher the educational level, the more likely Americans are to find gambling morally acceptable.

A previous study of how different religious groups answered the question from 2001-2016 found that Mormons were, by a large margin, least likely to find gambling acceptable. Eight in 10 of those with no religious preference and of Jews, and three-quarters of Catholics, believed gambling is OK morally. Among Protestants, who make up the largest religious group in the U.S., a slight majority said it is acceptable.

Bottom Line

Fifty years ago, only one state -- Nevada -- had casinos. Only two -- New Hampshire and New York -- had lotteries. Now, all but a handful of states have both, and with the addition of online gambling, the industry's overall net worth has been valued at $240 billion. And gambling appears poised for another growth spurt, with many states looking to formally allow betting on sporting events.

While previous generations of Americans may have never been exposed to legal betting unless they traveled to Las Vegas, today most adults can place a legal bet by as simple and mundane an act as buying a $1 lottery ticket at the neighborhood convenience store. As more and more ways to gamble have become readily available, Americans -- never overwhelmingly opposed to the concept of legal gambling -- have gradually solidified their support for the practice, though a sizable minority still sees it as wrong.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 1-10, 2018, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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