I’ve discovered a lot of odd things while living overseas, but none has surprised me as much as the presence of slot machines on military bases. Every base I’ve been to in Europe has slot machines. I’d always thought that gambling on military bases wasn’t allowed. I was definitely wrong!
While I have no problems with recreational gambling, I find it odd that the military would allow slot machines. The Department of Defense regs clearly prohibit gambling, as explained in this excerpt from Hill AFB’s Hilltop Times:
“While on government-owned or leased property or on duty for the government, an employee shall not conduct or participate in any gambling activity, including conducting a lottery or pool, (or) participating in a game for money or property …” (5 C.F.R. ¬ß735.201). The Department of Defense has wholly adopted this rule. “A DoD employee shall not participate while on federally owned or leased property or while on duty (for military members, this means, in this context, present for duty) for the federal government in any gambling activity prohibited by 5 C.F.R.” ¬ß735.201. (Joint Ethics Regulation — DoD 5500.7-R).
If this is accurate, how in the heck can the Department of Defense justify having slot machines available on base?
History and Current Situation
I did a little research, and I discovered that slot machines have been present on military bases since at least the 1930s. Official support for slot machines has waxed and waned over the years. The machines were removed from all Army and Air Force bases in 1972, but remained on Navy bases. The machines began to be reintroduced in 1980. While hard and current numbers are hard to find, there are at least 5,000 slot machines located on nearly 100 overseas military bases.
Positives of On-Base Slot Machines
There are some reasonable arguments for having gaming machines available on base in locations where similar gambling is illegal off the military installation. Occasional gaming can be fun and relaxing for troops and their families. Officials state that on-base machines offer higher payouts than off-base machines. Gambling on-base can be safer than off-base gaming locations, and there is a decreased chance that a problem gambler will do something illegal if they are within the grounds of the installation.
The money earned from these on-base gambling machines is used to supplement the Morale, Welfare and Recreation budgets of local bases, supporting swimming pools, movie theaters, and concerts. Estimates are that on-base gambling brings in between $100 and $150 million dollars in revenue each year. That’s a lot of movies and popcorn.
Negatives of On-Base Slot Machines
There are also a lot of reasons why DoD sanctioned gambling is a bad idea.
Easy access has been proven to increase the number of problem gamblers. John Kindt is a University of Illinois business professor who has studied the gambling industry and focused on the military in recent years.
These troops, they’re Type A personalities,” he said. “They’re naturally drawn to risk and adventure, and that’s the group most vulnerable to gambling problems.
We’ve seen civilian studies where populations with easy access to slot machines have nearly doubled the number of problem gamblers,” he said. “The slots are easy and highly addictive.
If they got rid of the machines, there would still be some with serious problems who go off base or get involved in back-room poker games. But just having them there, you get some people addicted who never would have had a problem otherwise.
Not Just Slots
Bingo is a popular form of entertainment on many military bases, and much if it is run by the Department of Defense through it’s MWR departments. The National Council on Problem Gambling claims that Army bingo was a $45 million dollar business in 2005.
A quick internet search on “army bingo” shows that Hunter Army Airfield currently runs bingo games six nights a week, and I’ve seen prizes as high as $42,000. Holy Cow! Heck, Bingo at HAAF has it’s own Facebook page! Fort Gordon even has it’s own Bingo Palace.
For me, I don’t care if the military wants to support gambling. I DO care if they are inconsistent with their own rules, and I think it is pretty clear that things are inconsistent when it comes to gambling.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and opinions.
I’ve used a lot of sources for this post. In no particular order…
photo by: ddesk
Do you want to know more about your military pay and benefits?
Things change fast around here! Keep up-to-date with email alerts about the topics that are important to you!