March 2012

Gamblers as Personal Finance Activists

Geng Li


Gambling behavior can serve as an informative indicator of important household heterogeneity that is difficult to observe directly in data. We present, to the best of our knowledge, the first comprehensive study of the consumption and personal finance of gamblers using a nationwide representative household survey. We find that consumers are more likely to gamble when income is higher than its normal level predicted by observable characteristics, and that nongambling expenditures tend to increase with gambling activities. In addition, gamblers are more likely to concurrently have various types of debt and assets, assuming a more active position on household balance sheets. However, gamblers do not necessarily have a higher net worth than comparable nongamblers. Gamblers also tend to engage in health-wise risky behaviors, such as smoking and heavy drinking, while paying out-of-pocket on life and health insurance. We present extensive evidence that such behavior differences observed in the data are not primarily due to different degrees of careless reporting to the survey. Rather, we argue that our findings are consistent with the notion that certain consumers, namely, the active participants in personal finance markets, take on gambling as a form of entertainment.

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Keywords: Gambling, consumption, household balance sheet, insurance, charitable giving, unobserved heterogeneity

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Last Update: July 10, 2020