The recession has dealt America’s casinos a bad hand. According to a new report from the American Gambling Association, last year overall revenue from casino gambling dropped by 5.5% or $1.8 billion.

Now, since we are a personal finance site, this story actually sounds like a good thing. Consumers are being more cautious with their money, which is always a plus. However, if you work in the gambling industry, you probably have a more negative take.

"There's no way to sugarcoat it. The past year was tough," Frank Fahrenkopf, CEO of the trade association, told USA Today.

That said, Americans didn’t exactly quit gambling cold turkey. Lottery ticket sales remained mostly unchanged last year, declining by less than 1% from 2008. In fact, according to the report, the lottery remains the most popular form of gambling in the U.S., as 46% of those surveyed claim to have played it in the last year, while just 28% visited a casino.

I suppose it’s easier to justify spending a couple bucks on a lotto ticket once in a while than it is to take an overnight trip to a casino, but is it wise for cash-strapped Americans to engage in this guilty pleasure?

One older study from 1998 found that the average player spends $150 each year on lotto tickets. That may not sound like a lot, but as MSN points out, put all that money into a 401(k) or IRA from age 30 and you’ll have almost $30,000 by retirement.

On the other hand, some government officials have argued that money spent on lottery tickets goes to the state and can be used for education initiatives and other government programs. So some good comes out of this vice.

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