'Casino Capitalism' - How Gambling Reflects The Moral Decay of Modern Society

 By Takudzwa Hillary Chiwanza 

Gambling, which is also known as betting, is a huge phenomenon in all parts of the world. It is an activity in which people, regardless of class, gender, race, or faith partake in. Gambling is defined as the “betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor’s miscalculation.”

Casino Capitalism Zimbabwe book moral decay
Pic - 

It is an activity premised on adventure – the risk of uncertain outcomes on a person’s fortunes drive people to place all their faith in chance. Gambling has taken over all parts of the world and manifests itself in the form of sports betting, scratch cards, poker, roulette, slots, and fixed-odds betting. Casinos in many parts of the world have been enjoying great success, with the majority of them taking their business online – a person in Zimbabwe can easily use a Finnish online casino to bet all they want. Such is the powerful effect of globalization which has also facilitated economic liberalization – there are now few restraints on casinos as compared to the past.

Because of its adventurous nature predicated on speculation – the sheer belief in luck – gambling was frowned upon and considered a “pariah” activity that was morally hazardous. As such, gambling was mostly illegal in countries such as the United States and Britain where capitalism developed. Religious views such as those by Protestants did not support gambling – such financial risk was a vice. And yet, financial risk has always been the hallmark propeller of capitalism to all parts of the world.

In the book “Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism” Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff draw from the history of gambling to illustrate the nature of capitalism and its influence on shaping the world. They write, “Casinos were set apart from the workaday world. They were situated at resorts, on reservations and riverboats: liminal places of leisure and/or the haunts of those (aristocrats, profligates, ‘chancers’) above and beyond honest toil. Living off the proceeds of this form of speculation was, normatively speaking, the epitome of immoral accumulation: the wager stood to the wage, the bet to personal betterment, as sin to virtue. There have, self-evidently, always been different cultures and mores of betting.

However, the activity—whether it be a ‘flutter’ on the horses or a domestic card game, on a sporting contest or an office pool—has generally been placed outside the domain of work and earning, at best in the ambiguous, nether space between virtue and its transgression. Over a generation, gambling, in its marked form, has changed moral valence and invaded everyday life across the world. It has been routinized in a widespread infatuation with, and popular participation in, high-risk dealings in stocks, bonds, and funds whose fortunes are governed largely by chance.”

This now reflects the nature of capitalism – an obsession with financial risk in which zero regard is paid for the repercussions of such faith on the lives of the majority. This obsession with speculation (as largely seen on the New York Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange) resulted in the global financial crisis of 2008. Speculation as regards stocks – “excessive risk-taking” – cultivated the seeds for the global financial crisis. And this cannot be separated from gambling itself – noting how “gambling [is] the fastest growing industry in the US,” and “tightly woven into the national fabric” as said by Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff. The capitalist nature of the insurance industry also tells us a lot about how life now resembles gambling.

Gambling reveals what lies at the core of capitalism; the pressure to obtain instant returns. This is what is called “casino capitalism” – a term employed by British economist Susan Strange in her 1986 book “Casino Capitalism”. She critiqued the international capitalist financial system as analogous to casinos – she “sets the stakes that international finance has become stronger than states and has been deregularized”.

When looking at gambling, it presents a chance towards wealth both for the poor and the rich. For the jobless poor, there is “extreme enthusiasm” towards trying “their luck at making a fast buck”. The Comaroffs express their views by saying gambling reveals “locally nuanced fantasies of abundance without effort, of beating capitalism at its own game by drawing a winning number at the behest of unseen forces”.

That gambling has become normalized in many countries around the world shows everything one needs to know about the nature of capitalism. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, reflections on inequalities caused by capitalism must be pondered on deeply. Casino capitalism – the nature of neoliberalism –  only serves to perpetuate poverty.

Post a Comment