Diffusion of an Economic Development Policy Innovation: Explaining the International Spread of Casino Gambling

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science, International Development, and International Affairs

First Advisor

Denise von Herrmann

Advisor Department

Political Science, International Development, and International Affairs


Over the past 50 years, the international spread of casino gambling has been remarkable. Legalization of casino gambling is often framed by policymakers as an answer to some economic or development problem. What has been lacking has been research into the factors that affect this spread. The diffusion of various forms of gambling as a policy innovation across U.S. states has been explored by several researchers. These studies have produced mixed results, often at odds with case studies, policymaker statements, and media reports. This study uses an event history analysis to examine the factors that lead to the adoption of casino gambling among nations around the world. Specifically, measures of fiscal stress, economic development, tourism, religiosity, and income levels are tested for their relationship to national decisions to legalize casino gambling. This study found that economic development needs, as measured by general unemployment rates, were associated with the casino legalization decisions of national governments. Higher unemployment rates were more likely in the years that nations legalized casino gambling. Religiosity, measured by frequency of church attendance, was also found to be significant in the legalization decisions. Higher rates of church attendance were less likely in the years that nations legalized casinos. Measures of fiscal stress, tourism, and income levels were not found to have significant relationships with the legalization decisions. This is interesting because these factors are often cited in case studies, media reports, and the statements of politicians during legalization processes. In fact, case studies completed as part of this research found significant mention of fiscal and tourism benefits in the legalization decisions in both Denmark and Greece. This study points to the need for further research in several areas. Statistical models have been unable to explain significant portions of the variation in casino legalization decisions in both domestic U.S. and international studies. Further exploration of potential explanatory variables and more appropriate measures of currently theorized factors is warranted. Another area for further research is the seeming contradictory findings of multiple statistical analyses and multiple anecdotal findings of the impacts of fiscal stress on the casino legalization decision.