For nearly 40 years, Washington state residents have had plenty of legal opportunities to gamble. Pari-mutuel wagering has been on the books since 1933 (after a previous try in the late 1800s), but the real floodgates were opened in the early 1970s. It started out small, with card rooms and social games, but its development has been matched by few other states. You can review the state’s gaming history on my Washington page.

There are currently more than 30 tribal casinos in Washington and some 80 active commercial cardrooms, along with a state lottery, horse racing and off-track betting. More than 1,000 commercial licensees sell punchboards and pulltabs for revenue-generating purposes, and those products, along with bingo, card games and other activities, are also popular in charitable settings.

With all those opportunities, it’s not surprising that regulators are interested in public opinion about gambling. Last week, the results of a 2011 survey were released, conducted by the  Washington State University Social & Economic Research Center for the Washington State Gambling Commission. It was the second such survey, following one conducted in 2005.

One of the most interesting findings is that the general public often isn’t aware that legal gambling is regulated. Almost shockingly, in fact, only 75 percent of respondents knew that the state lottery is regulated – surely that percentage should have been even higher. Only about half the people knew that card rooms, tribal gaming and horse racing are regulated. And as a result, many respondents felt that gambling regulation should be increased or strengthened. Yet they play the games despite these perceptions.

Overall, there was a decline in gambling participation from 2005 to 2011 – not surprising in light of the economy and the unemployment rate. One notable exception was the number of respondents saying they had bet on sports, which increased. There is clearly potential for revenue from legalizing sports betting, something New Jersey is trying hard to accomplish despite a federal ban in most jurisdictions.

A few other items of note – gambling follows income. Despite critics who argue that gambling only targets the poor, people with higher incomes tend to gamble more often than those at lower income levels. There is also a widespread awareness (92 percent) of problem gambling treatment programs, so efforts to publicize those programs have worked well in the state.

See the complete survey results.