Gambling Regulation: History Repeats Itself
Prof. Nicholas Tosney of the University of Leeds, in his short paper “Gaming in Britain and America: Some Historical Comparisons” explores how gambling regulations and taxes developed since the 16th century amidst sustained religious and moral objections.

Prof. Tosney unearths two interesting facts which steered governments in Britain and America to start permitting and taxing gambling. The facts are still valid today.
His first assertion is that challenging economic times enabled governments to sidestep moral objections and start taxing gambling. In the early 17th century England was fighting expensive continental wars and the government badly needed additional revenue, so for the first time a centralised system of taxing the manufacture of cards and dice was set up – taxing gambling directly was a step too far. As the experiment proved fruitful, taxes on cards were increased during the Seven Years Wars (1756-63) and the American War of Independence. In Nevada, USA, although some gambling was already allowed, it was the Great Depression that triggered the State of Nevada to permit “wide-open” gambling in 1931. Economic conditions outgunned moral and religious concerns. 

Tosney’ second point concerns prohibition. In 1541 the government of England passed an Act against gambling stating “That no Manner of Artificer or Crafstman of any Handicraft or Occupation, Husbandman, Apprentice, Labourer, Servant of Husbandry, Journeyman, or Servant of Artificer, Mariners, Fishermen, Watermen, or any Serving-man shall…play at Tables, Tennis, Dice, Cards, Bowls, Clash, Coyting, Logating, or any other unlawful Game…“. The act clearly demonstrates that the English government was preoccupied with thwarting people on waged work, i.e. ‘the poor’, from gambling. The thinking of the time was that the working, or poor, population was incapable of looking after themselves. Social status was a key driver of prohibition. This viewpoint is often repeated by various anti-gambling organisations today. If we are to find a variance between the 16th century and 21st century anti-gambling oratory it is that those who are prone gambling addiction encompass every strata of society. But the moral and religious arguments against gambling have been consistent since the 1500s.
Since the 2008-2009 “Great Recession” and the ensuing sluggish recovery, governments across the globe have been in dire need of fresh and sustainable revenue. 
Prof. Tosney argues it is usually this economic environment which activates further liberalisation of the gambling industry. In fact, since 2008, there has been a flurry of regulations coming out of Italy, France, Spain, Bulgaria, and Greece, and they will be soon be followed by Germany, Holland, and many US states. China, too, is considering expanding the lottery/gambling games it permits.
Online gambling has forced countries to move hurriedly to regulate so they do not lose out on the tax revenue. But the tax regime that many governments implemented, such as in France, is unnecessarily high. It seems that many legislators are unable to free themselves from the archaic stereotype of a gambling industry dominated by Bugsy Siegel and Al Capone instead of focusing on an industry that employs brilliant statistical modellers, innovative software designers, and uses state of the art technology.
Where gambling and betting is regulated, the sector is an important contributor to GDP growth. In Australia, where it has also reached a degree of maturity, the sector is larger than overall alcohol sales and makes up 3% of household consumption. It also provides Australian states with around 10% of their revenue. 
In Italy, the gambling sector’ GGY is almost twice the revenue produced by the fashion industry. More than 100,000 people are employed in the gambling industry in the UK, equal to those employed in the aerospace industry.
But even if the regulatory framework has progressed, the prohibition/ permission dichotomy has not moved much beyond the 16th century.
In the last three decades economic and social policy has moved markedly towards market oriented solutions in the West as much as in the East. But this policy adaptation has not been extended to the gambling industry. Even the EU’ most successful steps were in creating a single market where services and people were free to move without hindrance. Well, not all services, because the gambling industry was not allowed to exercise this freedom by several member states. 
The EU Green Book on online gambling was very long on responsible gambling and customer protection but extremely short on EU-wide market liberalisation. National governments have been giving far too much attention to a tiny minority of problem gamblers whose numbers do not merit the regulatory overkill. The numbers and costs associated with obesity, alcoholism, accidents and deaths in the work-place, or even teen pregnancy are massive by comparison.