As much as I would like this article to be about how the world of board games and card games has been exploding in popularity, it isn't. Instead, I refer to the surging national enthusiasm for gambling, euphemistically called "gaming" by those in the industry.

Consider New Jersey's recent state shutdown over a budget impasse. Lots of state services were put on hold, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, courthouses, public parks and beaches, and road construction. Did we hear a lot about all that? Not too much. But we did hear frequently about the shuttering of the state casinos and lotteries. Oh, the inhumanity of it all!

Fortunately, the crisis was resolved within a few days. But back to the gambling.

Scary stats
To get a feel for just how big a business gambling is, check out this information from a December 2005 article in The Atlantic Monthly:

America now has twice as many publicly available gambling devices that take money -- slot and video-poker machines and electronic lottery outlets -- as it does ATMs that dispense it. In the past 15 years the number of such devices has grown fivefold, to more than 740,000 and it's still mounting. This year a record 73 million Americans will visit one of the 1,200 gambling joints now stretching from coast to coast -- a nearly 40% increase in visitors from just five years ago. Players make an average of six pilgrimages a year to these beckoning temples of luck, and more than a quarter of American adults now list gambling as their No. 1 entertainment choice.


In many ways, that's obviously very bad news. Gambling, after all, favors everyone but the gambler in the long run. These gambling enthusiasts have chosen losing money as their favorite pastime. I thought it was bad that you might now have to spend $10 or $20 on a night at the movies, but that's still much better than spending $200, $500, or more on a night at a casino.

Is there any upside to all this? Well, yes.

Profiting from peril
The upside is that instead of losing money gambling, you can make money by investing in the gambling industry. According to the AtlanticMonthly article, "As much as 70% of the $48 billion in gaming revenues raked in by the casinos comes from slots." That tells me I might want to look at slot-machine and electronic game manufacturers as possible investments. International Game Technology (NYSE:IGT) is one big player, if you'll pardon the pun. Bally Technologies (NYSE:BYI) is another, as is WMS Industries (NYSE:WMS), formerly known as Williams Industries. (You might recognize some of these firms as the great pinball-machine makers of yore.)

The rise of the gambling industry hasn't escaped the notice of our Fool investment newsletters. Ameristar Casino (NASDAQ:ASCA) is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection, while Shuffle Master (NASDAQ:SHFL) is a Stock Advisor selection.

Learn more about it
You can learn much about the industry and its investing attractions right here. Jeff Hwang recently covered the Southern Gaming Summit in a two-part series (part 1 and part 2). And Nathan Slaughter offered a three-part series on "A Closer Look at Casino Stocks" (part 1, part 2, part 3). Some of the big casino players discussed include Harrah's (NYSE:HET) and MGM Mirage (NYSE:MGM).

Check out some of our investing newsletters, as well. Hidden Gems, for example, is always on the lookout for small and rapidly growing (and attractively priced!) companies. You can test-drive it for free and see which companies, aside from Ameristar Casino, have gotten the nod so far.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian spent more time at the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas than she did in the casinos there. She owns shares of no company mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, viewher bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written:The Motley Fool Money GuideandThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.