"Winning?" Don't bet on it

Tina Haapala |

Written by Gary Silverman, CFP®

We, the United States of America, are still far ahead of China. Yes, we are “winning.” While we always love the sound of “We’re number one!” this might not be good news.

You see, we are “winning” because we have $142 billion as opposed to China’s $95 billion—in gambling losses. That’s all the money we’ve lost in the office football pools, friendly wagers over bowling games, lotteries... not to mention what we’ve left at casinos.

A report from The Economist magazine stated the estimated total world-wide gambling losses will reach $488 billion this year. In addition to the US and China, Japan comes in (a distant) third at $30 billion, Italy and England at $24 billion, and Australia at $20 billion.

Of course, the money isn’t really lost…it’s redistributed. That lottery ticket goes to pay education expenses in Texas, the office football pool might have a dozen or so losers—but money goes home with the lucky winners (where presumably it goes back into the local economy), and even the casinos spread the wealth around. The players’ losses become money in the pockets of employees, vendors, taxing authorities, and shareholders.

Still, whether we call it a loss or redistribution, it’s still rather sad when money that was once in your own wallet is no longer there.

While this makes it seem like we have a gambling problem in this country, the numbers listed at the start of this article are country-wide. To get a meaningful number—at least meaningful for the individual gambler—we need instead to look at per resident statistics. There we see that the average person in the United States loses a bit under $600 per year to gambling. On the other side of the world, the average resident of Singapore loses over $1000 each year.

But the biggest winner—okay, maybe we should say the biggest loser—are our friends down under. Australians lose, on average, $1130 each year to their gambling habits. That would buy a lot of shrimp.


This article was published in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on November 29, 2015.