Challenges of individual responsibility in (addicted) gambling: a philosophical analysis
Background: Responsible gambling is a notion, a strategy, that is used when discussing problems related to gambling (e.g., slot machines) and they often pick out the individual gambler as their target. In philosophy, a necessary condition for an agent to be responsible for their actions is to have proper control over it. This so-called control condition is put into test in acts of gambling, where also “normal” gambling faces problems due to its nature, e.g., the element of chance. If we wish to maintain the difference between addicted gambling and non-addicted gambling, we need to think about the ways in which responsibility ascriptions are asserted. This, however, requires that we not only acknowledge the agent independent of their environment. Situational circumstances need to be taken into account in ways in which recognize the structural realities and the potential injustice that may be in play. Feasible options provided by the society and the gambling providers may well be the kind that question the degree of control that the agent can have in gambling in the first place.
Methods: The analysis is philosophical, i.e. conceptual, in nature and is conducted with philosophical means such as reflective equilibrium. The analysis is applied philosophy in the sense that it is reflected on the current empirical research on gambling.
Results: The metaphysical conditions for individual responsibility (i.e. aspects of competence and control) for one’s acts of gambling and the situational conditions are difficult to reconcile in the case of (non-)addicted gambling. A new, more nuanced, framework is suggested for the standard views which conceptualise the problem gamblers as faulty individuals (e.g., lacking adequate self-control). Drawing on the inherent nature of gambling and its immersive aspects, the boundary between addictive and non-addictive gambling is blurred. This provides an opportunity to shift the focus from the individuals (the requirement for control on their actions) more to the machines and their providers, as well as the society that is concerned with governance, and in case of addicted gambling, prevention and treatment.
Conclusion: The current conceptions of individual (self-)control of one’s actions may be overrated and impossible to gain in any kind of gambling. This gives grounds to consider the responsibility-relevant factors of gambling machines and their (societal) setting, and their effect on the individual gambler’s responsibility for their gambling. Even if more work on understanding the nature of gambling is needed for the reconciliation of competence and situational challenges in gambling, accommodating a feasible notion of (self-)control in any kind of machine gambling enables more realistic responsibility ascriptions and expectations in the phenomenon.